The Book

Hernzebekana! Her Language of Love

Hernzebekana! Her Language of Love

In 1963, while in sixth grade, Rebecca (Becki) Miller Lawton suffered a severe headache, followed by a two-week episode of lost speech. She spent ten days in the hospital. Although the cause of the episode was not formally determined, doctors surmised it could have been encephalitis. Following the episode, Becki experienced noticeable but not significant difficulties with schoolwork, but she graduated from Elgin Larkin (Illinois) High School with decent grades in 1970. She married Dennis (Denny) Lawton in 1973 and graduated with a degree in English from Valparaiso University in 1974. Her first daughter, Amelia (Aimee), was born in November 1975.

On February 1, 1976, Becki suffered a major hemorrhagic stroke due to a ruptured arteriovenous malformation (AVM) and, after surgery to repair the rupture, spent more than two months in the hospital. The stroke left her with physical weakness on her right side, loss of some peripheral vision, and aphasia (difficulty communicating). Becki’s recovery journey as an aphasiac stroke survivor included ongoing speech therapy, moving to Nebraska with Denny and Aimee nine months after surgery, learning to navigate everyday challenges and giving birth to her second daughter, Abigail (Abie) in 1980.

After moving back to Wisconsin in 1986, Becki undertook vocational rehabilitation training and started working as a special education paraprofessional. In October 1998, Becki suffered another, less severe, hemorrhagic stroke due to a bleed of the same AVM. After recovery from another surgery, Becki returned to her paraprofessional position in 1999 but stopped working in 2002 due to difficulties presented by her aphasia. She underwent additional rounds of speech therapy and continues her recovery journey today.

In Hernzebekana! Her Language of Love, Becki and co-author, Dawn Rosewitz, tell Becki’s story of her early years as a young, multiple stroke survivor. The story starts briefly with the weekend of her 1998 stroke, then transitions back to the period from the first severe stroke in 1976 through the hospitalization for the 1998 stroke.

A brief epilogue provides a synopsis of Becki’s recovery, challenges, and joys since her 1998 stroke. These first-person recollections from Becki, family members, and friends provide the unique perspectives of those who have experienced and are impacted by strokes and aphasia.

And hernzebekana? What? Don’t you know the word? Well, when words fail Becki, which happens on occasion, hernzebekana (pronounced hern-ze-ba-ka-na, emphasis on the first syllable) is one word she can always say. It is her word. It is her family’s word. They all know hernzebekana! It is the keystone to her language of love.

"Hernzebekana, written by Rebecca Lawton and Dawn Rosewitz, is a memoir about a multiple stroke survivor who has aphasia. It takes us through her life and struggles after surviving multiple strokes. When words don’t work, what are we left with? The memoir gives us some answers to those questions as well as the every day struggles that aphasic patients go through. The book is told from several different perspectives including the actual patient and her family. When words didn’t work, one word worked really well – Hernzebekana.

The book was really easy to read and enjoyable. I feel like I got to know Becki Lawton and her family throughout the book. I felt connected with her story and struggles as well as victories. By the end, I was invested in her and wanted to know more about how I could help. Being a physician assistant, I have seen, evaluated and treated many stroke survivors, but I never know their exact struggles with daily living. This book gave me a small glimpse into one survivor's story. The book did a great job explaining medical terms correctly and for the lay person. Near the end there is a photo gallery which shows pictures of Becki and her family as well as her neuroimaging which is very interesting and brings the whole story together. Most books don’t have pictures with them, so your mind makes up images of the people in them. It was a nice change to be able to see the people I was reading about. The book kept me reading and turning the pages.

This memoir keeps the reader engaged and gives a different perspective than most books I’ve read. Becki is truly an inspiration for everyone. This memoir should be read by all medical personnel who have any interaction with stroke survivors, so they have a better understanding of the foreign lands that these survivors are navigating. "

Amber Koll PA-C, MPAS, EMT-P
Internal Medicine