Duke Today: Stroke Survivors’ Resilience Captured by Duke Clinician’s Documentary

By Dan Vahaba

DURHAM, NC -- There was a reason guests were handed a packet of tissue before entering the theatre.

Duke clinician and researcher Jamila Minga, Ph.D, CCC-SLP, knew that her debut documentary about the understudied communication disorder that can follow after right hemisphere brain damage, or RHD, was bound to stimulate everyone’s tear ducts.

Minga, an assistant professor in head and neck surgery & communication sciences, premiered her first foray into filmmaking as part of Stroke Awareness Month at Duke’s Ruby Lounge on May 5 alongside director and North Carolina Central University (NCCU) professor of mass communication Michael Pearce.

The title of the documentary “RHD: Hidden Diagnosis” emphasizes the subtle nature of the disorder, despite the high rate of stroke. RHD can follow after a stroke on the right side of the brain, and lead to less overt communication disorders than what’s seen with people with left brain communication disorders.

A stroke is like a heart attack but in your brain. When a blood vessel in the brain gets blocked or constrained, it starves nerve cells of oxygen and nutrients, and leads to blood pooling in the brain. Someone in the US will experience a stroke every 40 seconds, making it the fifth leading cause of death nationwide. For those fortunate enough to survive a stroke, there can be serious side effects, such as communication impairments that make it difficult to understand or produce speech.

Obvious speech problems usually follow from strokes that occur on the left side of the brain. Because of that, Minga explained, clinical education, practice, and research have been on the overt communication impairments from left hemisphere stroke, leaving a whole other half of the brain and population of stroke survivors under identified and underserved.

The documentary has been selected to be shown at four film festivals in 2023: the North Carolina Film Festival, the Longleaf Film Festival, the Raleigh Film & Art Festival, and the Foothills Film Festival. 

Film festival selection badges
Raleigh Film & Art Festival and Foothills Film Festival badges

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