In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

September 20, 2022

Say cheeseburger: Speech pathologist’s treat/reward for stroke patient puts a smile on his face

By In the Loop

After 27-year-old Taylor Suhr had a stroke, he needed to relearn how to do many things he'd taken for granted, including talking and eating. Speech pathologist Jordan Alvarez helped him regain those abilities, and when it was safe to do so, rewarded him with the cheeseburger he'd been craving.

Taylor Suhr thought he was dying.

"I was terrified," Taylor says. "I woke up, and there were a bunch of tubes coming out of me. I couldn't talk. I panicked."

Taylor wasn't dying. But he'd come close. The 27-year-old La Crosse, Wisconsin, resident had had a major stroke and had been brought to Mayo Clinic for treatment. He'd had surgery to relieve swelling in his brain and was in a coma for close to a week.

In the days after Taylor woke up, he had to adjust to a new reality. He would need to relearn how to do things he had previously given little thought to — things like walking, talking and eating.

"When I first met Taylor he was having significant difficulties even swallowing his own saliva," says Jordan Alvarez, a Mayo Clinic speech pathologist. Communication was a challenge, too. "At first we used a communication board that had letters and items he could point to."

Alvarez was honest with Taylor. She told him recovery would take time. She also assured him that he'd get better.

"When you're scared and facing a challenge like Taylor's, it's powerful to hear someone say, 'I've seen this before, and it will get better,'" Alvarez says.

For Taylor, getting better started with small steps. He began by swallowing ice chips to start exercising the muscles in his throat.

"We spent about two weeks on ice chips and swallowing exercises," Alvarez says.

But Taylor was eager to move on. He dreamed of eating something real. A cheeseburger topped his list.

"Taylor loves to cook, so eating is very motivating for him," Alvarez says.

Mayo saved my life. I shouldn't be here. This experience made me believe in miracles.

Taylor Suhr

About three weeks after Taylor's stroke, a swallow study brought the good news that Taylor was ready to try pureed foods.

But the real joy came a week later, after a second swallow study showed that Taylor could eat solid foods chopped into small pieces.

"He was so excited that he cried," Alvarez says.

Soon Taylor was ready to try foods that were more solid. And Alvarez knew just what his first meal should be.

"I walked over to McDonald's and got him a cheeseburger," she says.

It was a simple meal Taylor will never forget.

"I loved that burger," he says. "I can still taste it."

He also has a love for Alvarez and the other staff who cared for him during his recovery.

"Mayo saved my life," he says. "I shouldn't be here. This experience made me believe in miracles."

It's made his mother, a door attendant at Mayo Clinic Health System in Onalaska, Wisconsin, a believer, too.

"I've worked here for 17 years and have always thought Mayo is the best," Cynthia Thorne says. "They proved my faith. They saved my son's life."

For Alvarez, getting to develop relationships with people like Taylor is why she loves her job.

"Taylor had such a great attitude and worked so hard," she says. "People come in at the most challenging time of their lives, and we get to help them get better. It's incredibly rewarding."

Tags: Patient Stories, Staff Stories

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