This past month has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for Brian LeBlanc of Pensacola.
Now age 56, LeBlanc was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s nearly two-and-a-half years ago. As part of his advocacy, he’s been sharing his journey with the disease, including his latest setback and triumph involving his ability to speak.
For about a two week period in February, LeBlanc had the words in his head, but could not talk. There were some isolated words, but no sentences would come out.
To find out more about what happened and get some medical context, we invited Dr. Rodney Guttmann, University of West Florida biology professor, Alzheimer’s disease researcher, and LeBlanc’s friend and fellow Alzheimer’s advocate to the WUWF studios to join in a recent phone conversation with him.
We begin by telling LeBlanc that it’s really great to hear his voice.
“You know, it’s really strange, but it’s good to hear my voice, too,” he replies with a chuckle.
Then, he begins to share details of what happened to him. It was the morning of Super Bowl Sunday on February 5. He says it became evident there was a problem when he tried to say “good morning” to his in-laws, who were visiting from North Carolina.
“I tried to say good morning, and nothing came out,” he said. “And, I thought maybe I had something caught in my throat, so I tried clearing my throat. I tried it again, and nothing.”
As LeBlanc explained, his brain was filled with words, like a sink is filled with water, and normally the words drain down to your mouth and then you can speak.
“Well, the drain was clogged,” he continued. “I could see the words, I could write, I could type, I couldn’t speak. Nothing, nothing came out. Of course, it was a paralyzing feeling.”
And, that’s because LeBlanc has counted on his voice his entire life - as a marketing professional, through his singing and public appearances and on a personal level - he loves to talk.
The worst part of the experience was the affect it had on his family members due to the fact that whenever his with them, they “talk and talk, and talk and talk,” said Leblanc, adding that he does most of the talking.
With a laugh, he pointed out that Dr. Guttmann should know about his ‘gift for gab.’ “Yea, I know what lunch is like with you,” replies Guttmann and then he asks if something like this has happened to LeBlanc before. Happily, it had never happened before, and LeBlanc noted that even when he had laryngitis, he could still talk.
But, on a serious note, LeBlanc finishes his point about the worst aspect of the experience in recalling the look on the faces of his wife and children. Those expressions were similar to what he saw when they first learned of his diagnosis with early on-set Alzheimer’s.
According to LeBlanc, the best aspect of this terrifying experience also involved his family, and the outpouring of love and support he got from them and his friends.
Determined not to be stopped by the experience, LeBlanc continued to post to his blog at abitofbriansbrilliance.com and his Facebook page and he downloaded a “text to speech” app to help him push forward.
He got busy updating his PowerPoint presentations and was looking into use of “text to speech” technology to help him give his presentations and be able to answer questions in real time.
During LeBlanc’s experience without the ability to speak, he and his wife Shannon celebrated their ninth wedding anniversary. They exchanged cards. In her card, she pledged to take him to Disney World, which is a place they had enjoyed just a few months ago without any thought or mention of Alzheimer’s.
They were at a fireworks show at Disney on February 19 when it came back to him; she heard it first.
“About two minutes into it, I said “Oh my God, that is so beautiful,” LeBlanc recalled.
“And, that time I heard myself and I looked at her and she’s just sitting there beaming and she says ‘you just said another sentence.’ I said ‘I know, and then I was off and running.”
“Magic,” said Guttmann. “I told him when I heard it, clearly Disney is a magical place.”
LeBlanc called it “Miracle on Main Street USA,” which was the title of his March 1 blog post.
Although he was elated, fear that his regained speaking ability wouldn’t last prompted him to wait a couple of weeks before he shared the news and posting that update.
When we continue the second part of this conversation, we’ll discuss what doctors say happened to LeBlanc and get more medical context as it relates to early on-set Alzheimer’s from Dr. Guttmann.