Bryn Bowles and her boyfriend Derek Hellwig.
Bryn Bowles and her boyfriend Derek Hellwig.Courtesy of Bryn Bowles
  • Bryn Bowles had a brain hemorrhage while running at age 26, leaving her with paralysis and aphasia.
  • The condition affects language comprehension and speech. It's relatively common but awareness lags.
  • Bowles has been judged by TSA agents and tourism workers, who may have thought she was drunk. 

Bryn Bowles had the day off from her job as a critical-care nurse in Anchorage, Alaska, when the then-26-year-old decided to go for a run. Partway through the jog, she collapsed. 

A bystander called 911 and Bowles was rushed to the hospital. One of the first things Bowles remembers is trying to ask "what happened?" in the hospital, but having only the sound "you-you-you" come out. "The whole time, in my head I can see it, but when I talk, I can't say it," Bowles told Insider.

It turned out Bowles had suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm, which left her with paralysis and aphasia, or impaired language comprehension and speech.

Now, nearly three years later, Bowles can walk unassisted and communicate much better, but continues to undergo speech therapy for aphasia. She's passionate about educating others about the condition, which is too often misjudged. 

"I just really want everyone to know aphasia and what people need, because it's hard to talk," Bowles said. People think those with aphasia "are stupid or they think they're drinking," she added.

Bowles spent months in the hospital and remains out of work

Bowles spent 30 days in the intensive care unit, and underwent five major brain surgeries and 10 weeks of inpatient rehab.

While Bowles' rupture could have happened any time, the increased blood flow to the brain while running likely triggered it, Bowles' mom, Robin, told Insider. 

Still, Bowles considers the circumstances "perfect," since she was close to good medical care and was treated by her friends and colleagues, including her boyfriend, fellow ICU nurse Derek Hellwig. 

Bryn Bowles in hospital
Bryn Bowles in the hospital with Derek.Courtesy of Bryn Bowles

She continues to work on reading, writing, and speech therapy with the support of her family and Hellwig, who now live with her in Arizona. While she hasn't been able to return to nursing, she volunteers with various aphasia groups, including one she organized called Tip of My Tongue.  

"I"m not a nurse now," she said, "but I'm going to do something awesome." 

Bowles says she struggled getting through airport security

Bowles said she once presented a card to a TSA agent indicating that she has aphasia and requesting a "female assist" because the devices in her brain can't go through the metal detector.

But the agent dismissed it, saying, "We don't need to see this. Just tell me what's going on," according to Bowles. 

"I"m like, 'That's why I made this for you. Can you read it?'" Bowles said. "It makes me mad, but people don't know. That's why I need people to know what aphasia is." 

Bryn Bowles
Courtesy of Bryn Bowles

Another time, when Bowles was visiting the Grand Canyon, she asked a staffer for directions to the restroom. Because the words "left" and "right" sound similar to her, she paused before going into the correct one. When leaving, she mistakenly tried the entrance-only door. 

The employee sneered "can't you read?" Bowles said. "They thought that I was drunk because I can't read 'left, right, up, down.'" That was the only time someone's judgment made Bowles cry, Robin said. 

Aphasia is relatively common but under recognized 

Aphasia, which typically occurs after a stroke or other brain injury, affects over 2 million Americans of all ages, according to But awareness is lagging.

"I think as a society, we tend to judge people by the way they communicate, and so naturally people sort of think that they're dumb or not smart," Brooke Lang, Bowles' speech pathologist, told Insider. But "all of that knowledge is still there, they just have trouble accessing the language piece." 

For Bowles, the condition means she has a slight slur on some words and occasionally stutters. She also sometimes needs more time to find the right words. Her difficulty comprehending opposites is common among aphasia patients, too, Lang said, adding that numbers can also be challenging. 

It helps Bowles to both hear and see the time of an appointment, for example. She also said she wishes everyone came with subtitles. 

"You have people who say, 'Well, if you can't speak, why don't you just learn sign language?'" Lang said. "But that's language too. The same errors that they make verbally are going to come out in their gestures." 

There's no cure for aphasia, and treatment — speech and language therapy — can be expensive, and takes a lot of practice and support. The more intensive programs cost upwards of $40,000 for six weeks, and aren't covered by insurance, Lang said. 

"This could happen to anybody," Robin said. "Just a little bit of kindness and respect for other people's journey goes such a long way." 

Read the original article on Insider