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From strength to stroke, resident fighting back

By Justin Boron

Charles Thomas used to slide a sharpener over his knife and then hammer down into thick cuts of meat for a living.

Now, the frail man can barely stand on his own two feet.

After two strokes, Thomas, 72, of College Park has difficulty moving his limbs and stammers out broken sentences about the tools he used as a butcher.

With a little effort, he manages to say cutting the T-bone steaks with a meat cleaver was his favorite type of preparation.

Nipsy, his son and a 38-year old firefighter for the Atlanta Fire Department, said he remembers watching his father at the neighborhood grocery stores. He said he was always with the knife sharpener in his hand.

The transition from a sturdy provider to being constantly cared for by his wife and children has been a difficult road to travel, for him, said Willie Alice Thomas, 72, his wife.

"It's been kind of devastating," she said. "He just didn't want to accept it."

Having reluctantly retired after more than 40 years of butchering at groceries from the Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta to mom and pop stores in East Point, Thomas had his first stroke in 2003.

While that slowed him down, it wasn't until his second stroke last August that he was resigned to the downstairs den of his home.

Thomas also has become isolated in his ability to express himself.

But there is hope for the former butcher, said Erin Horne, a speech pathologist for the rehabilitation department of the Southern Regional Medical Center.

People who have strokes on the left side of their brain typically suffer from language handicaps, she said.

By exercising their muscles in the face and mouth, a person's speech can be restored, Horne said.

The Housing Authority of Clayton County endowed Thomas some mobility by constructing a walkway from Thomas' room in the den to the driveway.

The Housing Authority also converted a closet into a full handicap access bathroom.

"Our biggest concern was in the event there was a storm or a fire," Willie Alice said. "There was just no way for Charles to get out of the house."

Swallowing can also be a problem for the former butcher, who can no longer bite into big cuts of meat.

Soft foods are easier for him, Willie Alice said.

"He loves okra," she said.

Horne said stroke victims also tend to lose their ability to swallow.

"It's something everyone takes for granted," she said.

But through therapy, they can regain it, Horne said.

With help from his family and community, Thomas' wife said he is looking to recover in any way he can.