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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Former Cornerstone University provost develops aphasia after blood vessel bursts in brain

By Nardy Baeza Bickel | The Grand Rapids Pr...

November 21, 2009, 4:35AM

GRAND RAPIDS — For 40 years, Bayard “By” Baylis has worked with words to develop curriculum for students and to help faculty teach better, most recently as the provost at Cornerstone University.

But after undergoing brain surgery earlier this year, words have been a bit tricky for Baylis: They behave like cats, not dogs, the educator said.

Bayard BaylisFormer Cornerstone University provost Bayard Baylis, shown here with his wife, Elaine Baylis, had a blood vessel burst in a brain tumor and developed aphasia, a disorder that impairs language skills.“Dogs come when you want them, but cats ... they come to you when they want to come to you, not when you call them,” said Baylis, trying to explain what it feels to live with mild aphasia, a communication disorder that limits a person’s usage and
understanding of language.

Learning how to pick through his brain to find the right words has not been easy for the 63-year-old, who until recently spent his days revamping Cornerstone’s curriculum and designing new strategies to improve student retention and enrollment at Christian institutions.

“He was a beloved provost because of his humble manner. Faculty and students could sense that he cared about them. He’s such a good listener,” said Alan Blanchard, who worked with Baylis in developing Cornerstone’s journalism program he directs.

“He really seems to genuinely care about people.”

Now, Baylis keeps a small notebook in his shirt pocket to make sure he will capture the ideas as they come to him. He also color-codes the ideas throughout his writings to make sure he does not leave any of them without proper explanation.

“That’s part of the insidiousness of the disease. There are times that I know I sound as if I’m making sense, but it’s not the sense I wanted to make. This week I’ve been (writing) an article about liberal arts and practical education, and I’m trying to understand the ancient Greek system. It’s just been a battle,” he said.

The experience has done nothing but strengthen his relationship with God, Baylis said.

“God is a god of miracles and not a god of convenience,” Baylis said. “The timing of the episode was a small miracle. If it had happened 15 minutes later, I would have been making 70 mph on I-96. And if it had happened a couple of months later, we would have been in Illinois, not knowing many people, not having doctors, not knowing the medical (community).”

“That in itself was a miracle,” agreed his wife, Elaine Baylis.

This spring, Baylis resigned as the second-in-command at Cornerstone to revamp the academic curriculum at Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill., where he was to become dean and vice president of academic affairs.

He was in a meeting with faculty and staff at Cornerstone when he got the worst headache he ever has had.

His speech became slurred, he broke out in a cold sweat, and his face became ash-white.

Baylis has no recollection of what happened later: Of his friends calling 911, fearing he had suffered a stroke; of the ambulance ride to the hospital and of doctors finding, and removing, a non-cancerous tumor in his brain.

His wife, 63, was told to gather the family. If he made it out of the operating room, doctors told her, he never would be the same.

When Baylis woke up after surgery, his speech was altered, but he couldn’t tell the difference.

“It was so frustrating. There was a word that described the condition I wanted to describe and I couldn’t come up with it. I would have trouble following directions, oral or written,” Baylis said.

After months of physical, occupational and speech therapy, Baylis said, he is doing much better. Now retired, he had to pass up the job at Trinity.

He can follow a conversation without much help and already passed a test to regain his driver’s license.

But he still is easily exhausted and, once in a while, words elude him, he said.

Just recently, while attending a funeral service for a Cornerstone employee, Baylis said he had trouble recalling names of former colleagues.

“I knew what they did. I knew what they taught. I knew where their offices were, but I couldn’t come up with their names,” he said.

Still, he pushes forward. Baylis and his wife hope to move soon to Pennsylvania to be close to his family. They still spend most of the mornings, and some afternoons, talking with colleagues about the future of academia and what colleges should do to better to educate students.

E-mail Nardy Bickel: nbickel@grpress.com

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