Ben - Lightwriter SL40

Ben had a very successful medical career, surviving two strokes and proving that anything is possible if you persevere.


In 2009, on my wife’s birthday, I had my second stroke due to a blood clot passing through a hole in my heart which had missed diagnosis earlier in my life.

As a result of this second stroke I cannot speak or swallow, feeding through a tube and I am weak on my left side. However, I have not lost my mental ability and sense of humor and I am still active on my computer exchanging emails. Communication was a very important function previously in my life as a University Lecturer and a Consultant Pathologist.

In 1977 at the age of 34, I was the first Consultant Histopathologist in the county of Gloucestershire, based at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. I was also serving the Severn NHS Trust and the Cheltenham General Hospital which promised me an exciting career.

In September 1980 I had a severe stroke which left me paralysed on the right side and no voice. The paralysis was short lived but left me weak on my right side. At the time I thought that was the end of my working life, with two young children to provide for. The consultant neurologist told Mary, my wife, that I would not be able to return to work. I had intensive speech therapy with a very attractive speech therapist and with help from my wife, a speech therapist friend and my GP (who had been a trained registrar in pathology in a previous life).

I returned to work after six months with help from my staff. I had my secretary correcting the grammar and spelling of my reports and helping me to reply to letters in a comprehensible way, but I still had word blindness, dysphasia and dyspraxia which I was able to hide by techniques I learned in speech therapy. I returned to Birmingham Medical School Pathology Department to take the practical part of the final MRCPath examination. It was set by the senior examiner to make sure I was up to standard to practice and fortunately I passed. I had to be sure that reports on histological specimens were precise and understandable. The clinicians said they were terse and to the point! The document and papers I wrote after my stroke were edited by my wife to make sure the grammar and spelling were up to standard.

After a successful career I retired in 2000 because of the pressure of work but I continued as a senior research fellow at the local university and this involved worldwide travel. Fortunately after my second stroke there was a sophisticated communication aid available.

When I was introduced to the Lightwriter SL40 it was a real bonus because I was relying on my laptop computer and pen and paper to communicate which was very difficult. Being a doctor my writing was difficult to read! When I first had the SL40 it was very difficult to use because the dictionary was not yet populated with my own words and phrases. I am not a good speller and I am not a typist! Also I have problems with grammar due to my first stroke.

After the first week the machine had built up a useful dictionary and was predicting the words I used and later on the Lightwriter was able to predict the common phases I used, if I remembered to use the function! After this I explored the other functions of the machine and its capabilities, the voice it used, the volume, speech exceptions, the favourite words and names, viewer lines for the hearer. In addition, the storing of phrases, sentences and keywords; which is very useful if you are meeting someone. You can prepare yourself with sentences which can be said by the SL40 using keywords which are very fast and also prevents any typing and spelling mistakes. It also has a text phone which is like a mobile phone which you can send and receive text messages, giving you wider horizons. If you send a text message to a landline the phone company will convert the printed word into a computerized voice, which is female!! but I find very useful.

In our house if I am on my own the answer phone is switched on and if I have to answer the phone I use the SL40 by holding it adjacent to our hands free phone to communicate with the caller. I have not explored the remote control of the television because I am mobile. I chose to have SL40 not the SL40 Connect because the mobile phone connection in our area is not very good. I wish I had chosen the SL40 Connect because it can communicate with a computer, allowing me to upload and manage phrases and sentences.

Fortunately I had the opportunity of testing the Swift for a week but this was not enough time because I had the same problem as I had with the SL40 dictionary. I liked it because it was small and I thought it would be very useful in meetings and social occasions. The main advantage of this machine is its size and ability to communicate with a computer.