Southeastern Channel documentary highlights stroke victim


Monday, April 16, 2018 
by: Tonya Lowentritt 

     HAMMOND – A new award-winning Southeastern Channel documentary highlights Hammond native Benny Latino and his remarkable recovery from a stroke six years ago.
     “To Speak Again,” a moving, 10-minute program that shows how Latino was able to regain his speech with the help of Southeastern Louisiana University’s Communication Sciences and Disorders department, will air at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 21, on the Southeastern Channel.
     The documentary will re-air multiple times after that, according to Southeastern Channel General Manager Rick Settoon. The Southeastern Channel can be seen on Charter Spectrum 199 in Tangipahoa, Livingston, St. Tammany and St. Helena parishes with a live 24/7 webcast and Video on Demand at
     “Benny Latino has long been a popular and beloved member of the Hammond community, yet few are aware of his stroke and his amazing recovery along with the pivotal role Southeastern’s speech pathology department played in his transformation,” Settoon said. “This short documentary is inspirational both for stroke victims and those who know Benny.”
     “To Speak Again” has already won a number of prestigious awards, including first-place “Mark of Excellence” honors for “Television In-Depth Reporting,” out of all colleges in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee at the Society of Professional Journalists’ Region 12 conference in Little Rock, Ark.
     It also won first place for “Best Documentary” at the Associated Press Louisiana-Mississippi College Broadcasters Awards in New Orleans.
     The documentary was produced, written and directed by Southeastern Channel student Amanda Triay, who now works as Marketing Producer at WAFB-TV Ch. 9 (CBS) in Baton Rouge. While at the Southeastern Channel, Triay was honored by the Emmys with a Student Production Award for her short film “Insomniac.”
     The program includes interviews with Latino himself, his daughter Tina, Southeastern Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) associate professor Meghan Savage, and Spoga Fitness Center owner Jeff Day.
     The story begins when Latino, a popular Hammond resident and longtime owner of Kelly’s Bar, now named Benny’s Place, suffered a stroke in 2012 on a Sunday morning after church while drinking coffee with his friend, Hammond mayor Pete Panepinto, at Hi-Ho Barbecue restaurant.
Tina rushed to the emergency room where she was joined by her mother Helen, her sister Lisa, who works at Republican Finance, and brother Benny III, a major league baseball scout with the Los Angeles Dodgers. They were told that their father’s blood pressure was so high that an injection to reverse the symptoms could prove fatal.
     “In a short amount of time, that’s a big decision to make,” said Tina, who now manages Benny’s Place. “My entire family came together, and we decided that it wasn’t worth losing him, and so that meant in his recovery time he did not have any symptoms reversed. He would have to start completely over.”
     The stroke threw Latino into a coma for two-and-a-half days. He would have to spend the next two months at North Oaks Hospital in Hammond.
     “I couldn’t say one word, not one word,” Latino says in the documentary. “I couldn’t say my wife’s name. I couldn’t say my name, my son’s name, my daughters’ name, nothing.”
     When his insurance ran out, Latino and his family approached Roxanne Stoehr, clinical supervisor of Southeastern’s Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic, at the suggestion of his North Oaks speech-language pathologist, a graduate of Southeastern’s (CSD) program.
     Stoehr and 10 of her student clinicians then worked with Latino over the next five years in her weekly Aphasia group made up of stroke survivors left with a language disorder that affected their ability to speak and understand what other people were saying. The clinicians provided the support, education and therapeutic practice to help him regain the ability to speak.
     “We worked on his speech and language output,” Stoehr said. “We especially focused on what we called ‘challenge words’- difficult words for him to say that were important to him. Like the word ‘scout’ because his son is a baseball scout.”
     “We worked on conversational skills during individual and group settings and functional skills, such as using electronic devices like his phone and an iPad. We also worked on language processing in a book club format.”
     Latino also sought the help of Day, his fitness mentor at Spoga, who felt that boxing exercises would help Latino with his balance, acuity and language restoration.
     “His recovery was gradual and required consistent participation and practice,” Stoehr said. “Although he had ups and downs like the loss of his eye and then the loss of his wife, he never let things keep him down. Even after the loss of his wife, whom he adored and spoke so highly of, he came back to the group the next week. He worked hard at Spoga and the speech clinic to improve his body and mind.”
     Stoehr also encouraged Latino to begin giving inspirational talks. He visited fellow stroke victims at hospitals and encouraged them to “never quit.”
     Six years after she first found Latino reeling from a stroke, Stoehr says his recovery is astounding.
     “I think his story is very inspirational,” Stoehr said. “He is like the Energizer Bunny- nothing keeps him down for long. Benny is an excellent example of the power of the mind and how positive thinking and lifestyle changes can make all the difference in the progress you make and the quality of life you will have.”
     Latino credits many with his progress, but especially Southeastern.
     “Ms. Roxanne and Dr. Savage were unbelievable, and the people there were all great,” Latino says in the show. “And the teachers that helped me, I can never, never thank you enough.”
     In its 15 years of existence, the Southeastern Channel has won over 300 national, international and regional awards, including 15 awards from the Emmys. The channel is also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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