Diseases need heroes: men or women who have triumphed despite the disease. For the child with polio, one could always point to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who campaigned on leg braces to become governor of New York and then president of the United States. For epilepsy, there is always Joan of Arc or Napoleon. The blind and deaf have Helen Keller. Woodrow Wilson provides a similarly inspiring story for both dyslexia and stroke victims--but the story of his last two years in office provides a troubling example of how brain damage can affect judgment and even block insight into one's own disabilities.
Wilson had dyslexia in childhood. Imagine not learning your letters until age 9, not reading until age 12, being a slow reader all your life. Rather than being a prescription for a life as a nonintellectual ditchdigger, this was part of the background of a man who became a professor at Princeton University and the author of a popularly acclaimed book on George Washington.When Professor Wilson was 39, he suffered a minor stroke that left him with weakness of the right arm and hand, sensory disturbances in the tips of several fingers, and an inability to write in his usual right-handed manner. As often happens following minor strokes, there was recovery: his
right-handed writing ability returned within a year.
Was his career impeded? No, in 1902 he became the president of Princeton. But the problem recurred in 1904. In 1906 it happened again, this time with blindness in the left ...
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