"I'm lonely": Immune to Apraxia, Toronto doctor refuses to give up on a cure
by Kate Heartfield
Nov. 4, 2016
Lily Abello thought she would lose her ability to speak in April, just as everyone else she knew did.
"I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop," she says in her clear alto voice. "I watched my husband, my mother, all my friends, have difficulty forming words, speaking nonsense, then not speaking at all. I read the news. I didn't know anyone else who could still speak, so I figured I was just behind the curve."
It wasn't until this month that she finally accepted the truth. Abello, like an estimated three percent of the world's population, seems to be immune to the Global Apraxia of Speech.
Now, the Toronto pediatrician is urging the world's governments to keep funding research and find what Abello calls a "cure" for a condition that is now nearly universal.
The British writer and activist Alden Hood recently wrote in The Guardian that "to look upon the mass of humanity as being somehow deficient because they are changed is to indulge in a new and brutally nostalgic form of elitism. It is not speech that makes us human, but language."
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Abello subscribes to the theory that the Apraxia came from some external contamination or infection, perhaps carried through proteins, similar to the transmission of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Critics of that theory, such as Toronto's medical officer of health, Joanne Lew, point out that unlike other so-called prion diseases, the Apraxia does not seem to be degenerative. The fact that humans with Apraxia have maintained their ability to read, write and understand spoken speech makes Lew skeptical of the infection theory.
"These are isolated changes to a very specific part of the brain that we're seeing," says Lew, "the kind you might expect from a stroke or trauma. It's almost as if a tiny, precise bomb went off in every human brain at the same moment."
Or almost every human brain.