Southeastern Louisiana University Professor of Health and Human Sciences and Scholar in Residence Nina Simmons-Mackie was honored recently as the first American to receive the Robin Tavistock Award from the Tavistock Trust for Aphasia (TTA) in Britain.
The award is named after the 14th Duke of Bedford who founded the TTA after suffering a brain hemorrhage in 1988 that left him with aphasia, a complex communication difficulty caused by stroke, tumor, or injury to the language areas of the brain. People with aphasia can find it hard to speak, read, write, or understand language; however, intelligence remains intact. At least 2.5 million people in the United States suffer from aphasia.
The award is presented annually to a group or individual who is inspirational and has made a significant contribution to the field of aphasia.
“Nina is known for her quiet yet authoritative leadership, her strategic research, and a gift for being able to go directly to the heart of a problem and apply her unerring wisdom. This is coupled with warmth and kindness, as well as a keen sense of humor,” said Nicole Campbell of the TTA. “It is for her outstanding contribution to the world of aphasia that Professor Nina Simmons-Mackie is being honored and is the first ever recipient of the Robin Tavistock Award from the United States.”
Simmons-Mackie, a resident of Abita Springs, worked clinically as a speech-language pathologist with aphasia patients prior to joining Southeastern’s faculty. It was there that she became passionate about finding ways for those with aphasia to fully access life, striving to accomplish this by improving their language and quality of life within their individual social settings. She quickly realized that traditional aphasia therapy had its limits, which led to her research on social model approaches to improve life participation for aphasia patients.
Simmons-Mackie has served in Southeastern’s communication sciences and disorders program since 1995, where she conducts independent research and teaches graduate level courses in adult aphasia, discourse and conversation, and neuropathologies of communication. She has worked in clinical services at Tulane School of Medicine Speech
Pathology Department, the Louisiana Rehabilitation Institute, and Touro Infirmary in New Orleans. She has also played an important role in a number of organizations, such as the National Aphasia Association and the Academy of Neurologic Communication Disorders and Sciences.
Convinced that healthcare professionals required more support and resources to help those with communication difficulties, Simmons-Mackie, along with others, founded Aphasia Access and became the organization’s first president in 2014. Aphasia Access is dedicated to ensuring communicative access for all who have aphasia so that they are not excluded from decision making and participation. The organization provides education and resources for professionals, increases awareness, and provides tools to support those who help aphasia patients.
“It is not possible to list all of Simmons-Mackie’s achievements. What is striking about her career is how it straddles so many strands of the aphasia world,” Campbell said. “Nina has made a significant contribution as a clinician, an advocate, a researcher, a teacher, and as a generous mentor for others.”
Simmons-Mackie’s previous awards include being named to the VA Speech Language Pathology Hall of Fame and receiving the Charity Hospital Outstanding Professional Award, the Outstanding Volunteer Award and Leadership Award from the American Heart Association, and the Audrey Holland Speak Up Award.