I often refer to Alexis’ “village.” Between family, therapy, school, and other medical professionals, we have a lot of people that make up the “team” that helps Alexis be successful in her everyday life. Many of these people are the absolute best in what they do, both in our state and across the country.

Over on the University of Nebraska’s East campus there is an unassuming building called the Barkley Center, where some pretty amazing things are happening because of some pretty amazing people. Dr. Karen Hux is a professor who specializes in neurogenic communication disorders. She says that her research interests concern “the cognitive bases that underlie acquired language and communication challenges and the effect of traumatic brain injury on family, community, and educational systems.”

 Heavy stuff. But let me tell you why all of this is important.

Dr. Hux is one of Alexis’ most important speech therapists…without ever even treating her. How does that happen? Every single speech therapist that has ever treated Alexis has come from UNL’s Barkley Center and has specialized or taken classes about traumatic brain injuries and speech/ cognitive issues related to the injury.

 Here’s how this breaks down…let’s see if you can follow along.

 April 28, 2008- Alexis is admitted to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital where Alexis is assigned to Judy Harvey for speech therapy.

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 After addressing Alexis’ swallowing problems, Judy realizes that Alexis may have some form of apraxia.

Judy decides to take Alexis to Susan Fager who is the Director for the Communication Center of Excellence in the Institute for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital. After working with Alexis, she mentions that she has a friend getting her Ph.D. and doing her research with childhood apraxia.

A few weeks later, Amy Nordness comes to our house and spends time working with Alexis on a computer program she is using to help kids with apraxia. Over the next year, Amy would drive from Omaha once a week with an updated program for Alexis. Alexis was too young to be in her research study…so all of this was done from the kindness of her heart.


During this time, Alexis was discharged from the inpatient program and started outpatient speech therapy with Carrie Childers. The amount of patience that Carrie has is not human…her powers come from somewhere beyond this earth, and Alexis was the beneficiary of it.

small carrie

Those four women, in just over a year, had taken a two-year-old girl who was never expected to say a sentence again in her life,  who had lost her ability to eat and drink, who did not make any sort of sound (other than cry) and gave her all of those abilities again.

However, it didn’t  just stop there. In 2009 we were asked if our family would be part of a mentoring project for students at the Barkley Center specializing in traumatic brain injury, we said yes. Our family was once again blessed by a brilliant young lady named Samantha, who would dedicate hours of her time over the next four years to Alexis. Samantha has become a great friend to Alexis, while still being able to sneak in a decent amount of speech and cognitive work during playtime. She’s been a wonderful guide to Brandon and me as we continue to make decisions for Alexis.


Eventually Carrie Childers left Madonna for a little something called a Ph.D. and we got a new therapist fresh out of the Barkley Center. Lindsey has transitioned Alexis from working on words, to beginning reading, and on to cognitive exercises. But she is more than just a great speech therapist, Lindsey is a great communicator. She spent the summer preparing Alexis for 1st grade, and has helped  with Alexis’ paraprofessionals, teachers, school speech therapist, and even the Principal at the school understand what Alexis needs to be successful.

lindsey and alexis

When we realized that Alexis was going to need some extra help this year in school, I turned back to Dr. Hux to help me find a tutor. And of course, we got much more than that. Jessie is a Ph.D. student specializing in traumatic brain injury at the Barkley Center. Now, she is coming to our house once a week for a tutoring session with Alexis. She is collaborating with Lindsey…and together as a team, they have helped Alexis by leaps and bounds in only a few short weeks. 

This summer Alexis and I ran into Dr. Hux at the grocery store. We chatted for a few minutes, and when we walked away, I told Alexis that she just talked to one of the most important people in her life. Then I told her the story that I just told you. Alexis thought that was pretty cool.

Brandon’s favorite movie of all-time is “It’s A Wonderful Life”. I’ve never gotten as into it as he is, but the main gist is how much one person’s life can impact so many others. What Dr. Hux has done by “indirectly” treating Alexis through her amazing leadership at UNL, has had an immeasurable impact on both our lives and Alexis. I can’t even imagine how many other lives have been transformed as a result of the incredible speech pathologists she has placed throughout the country.

Tiffany Verzal

Tiffany Verzal was raised in rural Nebraska, and now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her husband Brandon and daughter Alexis (9) and Abby (2). In 2008, Alexis (then 14-months-old) was the victim of shaken baby syndrome at the hands of her daycare provider in Texas. Alexis suffered severe brain damage and has spent over 2000 hours in rehabilitation since her injury. Tiffany continues to raise awareness for traumatic brain injury, shaken baby syndrome and child abuse. Brandon and Tiffany serve as members on Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital’s Board of Trustees. Brandon is currently the Chairman of the Nebraska Child Abuse Prevention Fund Board.