You may know Aubrey Plaza as deadpan April Ludgate from the hit comedy Parks and Recreation or her recent Emmy-nominated work on HBO’s The White Lotus. But you may not know that this talented actress acquired aphasia after a stroke when she was 20. An inability to speak was her first sign that something was wrong.
An Early Stroke
Aubrey Plaza was at a friend’s apartment when she had her stroke. She told NPR that her friends thought she was joking around because she was known for her weird sense of humor. But they quickly realized something was wrong when she kept nodding when they asked if they should call an ambulance.
She describes the stroke:
And then I kind of blacked out for a second. And then I remember there was just like a really loud kind of sound happening. And I brought my hands to my throat, and I was kind of making like an ah (ph) sound because I couldn’t talk because the blood clot was in my language center of my brain. So I had expressive aphasia instantly, which means that if you’re talking to me, I could understand what you’re saying in my mind and understand how to respond. But I couldn’t actually get it out. I couldn’t actually talk.
A Delayed Diagnosis
The paramedics and doctors didn’t immediately think she was having a stroke, even with her classic symptoms. Her youth made them first consider everything from dehydration to drugs. Aphasia helped them pinpoint the problem:
I sat in the ER for about two hours before a doctor examined me because I physically looked fine. But I couldn’t talk, and I was confused. I also couldn’t write. And so then a doctor finally examined me, and I believe she asked me to put my right hand on my left knee. And I couldn’t do it. I was confused about right and left. And I think that’s when everyone realized, oh, like, she had a stroke.
After the Diagnosis
Once they knew what was wrong, they could treat the issue. She explained in a Guardian interview,
I had expressive aphasia, where I could understand what was happening, but I couldn’t talk or communicate. Like, you could say something, and I would know what you meant, but I couldn’t express it or even write it. That was the weirdest part. When they gave me a piece of paper and a pen, I just kept writing lines instead of words.
Speaking returned after her brain healed following the clot. She considers herself lucky that it happened so young. “I think I was lucky. I was so young that my brain was really – healed itself really fast. So I was talking after a couple of days. But I still have – there’s still certain, you know, things that only I would notice that are kind of residual from – left over from that incident.”
Image: Aubrey Plaza speaking at the 2019 WonderCon, for “Legion,” at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California by Gage Skidmore.