Driven to regain clarity of speech to promote better road safety

Although Senior Speech Pathologist Marianne knew about her participant Peter’s passion for reducing the road toll, she was wowed by his unwavering determination following multiple surgeries to return to presenting talks to create greater awareness of road safety.

As a survivor of a road traffic accident two decades ago that left him with an acquired brain injury (ABI), participant Peter is passionate about educating people on the importance of road safety. 

And he channels this passion into his role as a presenter with Headway Adult Development Program’s Community Education Program, speaking at venues and schools to create a greater awareness of the importance of road safety. 

However, a tumour diagnosis suddenly put Peter’s public speaking engagements on hold. “Around two years ago, I was diagnosed with a tumour underneath my tongue. This was a devastating diagnosis for me as I had always been a very active member of my community and regularly did public speaking engagements as part of Headway ADP. 

“I was rushed to hospital and underwent multiple surgeries to remove the tumour along with most of my jaw – the same operation that singer John Farnham had,” says Peter who also had skin and bone transplants.  

When Peter left hospital, after battling infections and more reconstructive surgery, he found that his breathing and speech were severely impacted. 

“I had to re-learn how to breathe, swallow, and speak all over again. This is where my Speech Therapist Marianne came into the picture: she worked extensively to help me slow down my speech and space out what I wanted to say, as others were having difficulty understanding me. I found this frustrating, as I often had to repeat myself or write my message on a piece of paper, and this took a little while to get used to.” 

Getting back speech clarity and confidence 

Peter’s Speech Therapist is Marianne Pereira, a Senior Speech Pathologist at Better Rehab Bankstown, who created a therapy program to help him regain the speech skills needed for having conversations and public speaking. “I told Marianne that my biggest goal was to re-engage as a public speaker with Headway ADP’s Community Education Program.,” says Peter. 

“Peter had articulation difficulties due to his major reconstructive surgery to remove the tongue tumour and most of his jaw,” explains Marianne, who conducted Peter’s one-to-one therapy sessions in his home.  

Marianne’s therapy first focused on Peter’s articulation of speech sounds to improve his intelligibility, also called speech clarity, in both conversation and in front of audiences. “Marianne taught me strategies to improve my speech clarity and overall confidence when conversing with others,” says Peter. 

Helping Peter achieve his ‘biggest goal’ – returning to his presentations, asap! 

Realising Peter’s “biggest goal” was the main driver in his recovery, Marianne took a ‘big picture’ approach to help him return to the podium sooner: “I worked collaboratively with Peter and the team at Headway ADP to modify his presentation format,” says Marianne, who found the staff and support workers at the not-for-profit organisation that provides support services to people with ABI “amazing”. 

In no time Peter was practicing his next speech with Marianne as his audience. 

“After a few trial runs with Marianne and some alterations to the presentation – I wanted to let my audiences know what I had been through, and added some more up-to-date information about my surgery – I was able to do my first presentation at Mount Annan High School on Friday the 25th of August. I then followed this up with some presentations at Canterbury Girls High School.” 

Marianne had set returning to presenting as Peter’s ‘long-term goal’, however knowing his strong drive to return to his talks, she wasn’t surprised he reached this goal much quicker than expected. “It was an absolute pleasure working with Peter. He is one of the most determined people I have ever met, and I’m always inspired by his ‘can-do’ attitude and ability to keep going despite life’s trials and tribulations. He should be commended in how quickly he has reached his goal to return to presenting!” 

“I am very happy to be back educating the community and hope that my audiences learn that “impetuous acts on or near the road can have dire consequences for the rest of their life. Thank you, Marianne, for helping me achieve my goal a lot sooner than I expected!” 

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