John Norris works through a voice exercise with Kari Johnson, an Essentia Health speech language pathologist, during a weekly meeting of the “LOUD Crowd.”
John Norris is proud to be loud, and he’s hoping to draw a crowd.
To keep his voice as he battles Parkinson’s disease, John relies on a speech therapy program called “SPEAK OUT.” He also attends the “LOUD Crowd,” a weekly meeting for people with Parkinson’s.
“The ‘LOUD Crowd’ is therapy and practice because we do the exercises together,” John says. “But it’s also a social group and we get to know one another.”
John and his wife, Terry, spend their summers in Pequot Lakes and their winters in Dallas. He began his speech therapy with the Parkinson’s Voice Project in Richardson, Texas. His success led the couple to donate to the Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Foundation to help bring the program to the Brainerd Lakes area and to support a local “LOUD Crowd.” The Norris’ donation also paid for Kari Johnson, an Essentia Health speech and language pathologist, to train at the Parkinson’s Voice Project.
“SPEAK OUT!” is a two-part program with 12 individual speech therapy sessions followed by the “LOUD Crowd.” Most insurance companies cover the speech therapy and there is no charge for the weekly meetings. Kari launched the program in August and convened the first “LOUD Crowd” in September. They add to the care that was already being provided to patients with Parkinson’s.
“Through the ‘SPEAK OUT!’ program, I get to see a patient’s voice come alive again,” Kari says. “Often, people with Parkinson’s gradually develop a weak voice, making communication with others difficult. Through this program, we’re able to strengthen the muscles used for speaking by teaching patients how to speak with intent.”
John and Kari say the weekly maintenance meetings make the program both unique and successful. Participants continue to use their therapy workbooks and do the exercises together. “You can have a thousand reasons not to do your daily exercises but here you have to do it in public,” John says. “You don’t want to embarrass yourself.”
Most Parkinson’s patients get individual speech therapy but then have to continue on their own at home. “With the ‘LOUD Crowd,’ this is the only therapy program that goes on forever,” John says.
“I believe the ‘LOUD Crowd’ is the most important part of the program because it provides ongoing practice, accountability and support,” Kari says. “Parkinson’s is a progressive condition, and without the ongoing group, it can be very difficult to maintain the results obtained in therapy.”
John and Terry agree. They work together on the exercises every morning. Still, John enjoys the weekly meetings and hopes to find a growing “LOUD Crowd” when he returns next spring. John and Terry see their donation as a way to “pay it forward” for the Parkinson’s Voice Project that helped them. “We think this can do a lot of good for a lot of people,” John says.
Essentia Health is the only place to receive “SPEAK OUT!” therapy in the Brainerd Lakes area and the only place in Minnesota with a “LOUD Crowd.”
To begin therapy, you need a referral from your doctor. There is no charge for the maintenance group, which meets at 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays in the Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation Center, 2016 S. Sixth St. in Brainerd. For more information, call 218.828.7375.
To donate to support the program, call David Jeremiason at the St. Joseph’s Foundation, 218.828.7362 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.