Providing Hope—and an “I Love You”—Through AAC

In May 2014, Greg Barnett was in a motorcycle accident and sustained a traumatic brain injury, losing his ability to move his muscles and speak. He moved between hospitals and rehab centers and was cared for by doctors and nurses who, night after night, didn’t believe he would make it. They helped him survive … but not thrive.

Eventually, Greg was moved to Hennis Care and Assisted Living Centre, where he received not just care, but therapy—and not only from Hennis staff, but from his wife, Michelle, too. She used poster boards as choice boards and taught him to close both eyes for “yes” and one eye for “no.”

Impressed with Michelle’s work and Greg’s progress, the speech-language pathologist at Hennis suggested he’d be a good candidate for an AAC device with eye tracking software. But these devices are pricey, and insurance wouldn’t cover the costs.

Rallying Our Community

Administrators believed so much in Greg’s potential, they began a GoFundMe campaign. They grappled together a few hundred dollars, but the campaign plateaued.

I’m an SLP grad student at Kent State University (KSU), and a social worker’s assistant at Hennis. Although I work in the facility where Greg’s being treated, I first saw the GoFundMe campaign on Facebook. I’d never met Greg and initially didn’t even look at the page. When I finally did and read his story, I was struck. My husband had just begun working at a Harley Davidson dealership and rides motorcycles—just like Greg. I knew I had to contribute somehow.

So, I approached my boss and asked if I could reinvigorate the campaign. We put together a team of employees to coordinate fundraising efforts and set a goal to raise over $16,000 for the AAC device.

Over the next couple of months—in addition to maintaining the original GoFundMe page—we launched several additional fundraising campaigns:

  • KSU’s NSSLHA chapter put together a basket for a raffle and donated the money raised.
  • 50/50 raffle tickets were sold at the Ohio Championship Wrestling Tournament.
  • Donation letters were mailed to those in our local community.
  • T-shirts with our campaign slogan, “Greg’s Gang,” were sold.
  • At the end of July, we held a “thank you” event for those who donated and supported the cause.

All-in-all, we raised more than $14,000!

Just shy of reaching our $16,000 goal to purchase the AAC device, a local church donated the final $2,000 to push us over the top!

Doing Whatever It Takes

Greg received his AAC device on August 15, 2018, and his SLP is working to create a tailored program to meet his needs. His wife remains by his side and is learning right along with him. The goal has always been for Greg to tell his wife, “I love you,” again … and now he’s on his way.

As a non-traditional grad student, my plate was full; but when I saw Greg’s story, I knew I had to help. Through this experience, I learned a lot about what it means to be an advocate. I don’t want to be a passive SLP. I want to jump in and be proactive—wherever there’s a need. Sometimes, we’ll teach others how to use their voice, but in the meantime, we’ll need to be their voice.


  1. Avatar Marti January 15, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    I have loved learning about Greg’s journey through you and am so proud to call you my best friend. You are the true meaning of a dedicated (soon to be) SLP and graduate student and I am so excited to see how great of an impact you make on this world!

  2. Emily Newman Emily Newman January 16, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    Thank you, Marti! I couldn’t have done it without your mental and emotional support. I am so happy to be on the graduate school journey with you and I know this program will take us both to great places. Thanks again for your kind words!

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