Throughout Bob Lebano’s life, he’s always had stories to tell. But when Parkinson’s disease rendered his voice faint and monotonous, he was afraid those stories would vanish.
“I understand the frustration of people I talk to,” said Lebano, a Navy veteran. “They can’t hear me. They miss words. I try to correct them. I can’t think of the next word. I’ll be talking, and I won’t know what word belonged there. Sometimes I just stop talking when I’m trying to figure it out, and people think I’m finished talking.”
Thanks to voice therapy sessions at Christiana Care’s Middletown Physical Therapy Plus with therapist Nora Walstrum, Lebano has regained his ability to tell stories. In the process, he and Walstrum discovered a story they both share, from more than a half-century ago.
In 1960, when Lebano was 16, his father signed him into the Navy. In 1962, he was aboard USS De Soto County when the ship was ordered to head to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Relations between the United States and Fidel Castro’s Cuba were deteriorating rapidly. The women and children dependents of the men stationed at the naval base were waiting to be evacuated. Castro already had severed the pipes that supplied the base with fresh water. His forces were just a chain-link fence away.
It was a beautiful night, Lebano recalls. Most of the crew were eating snacks and watching “Ocean’s Eleven.” As they approached Guantanamo, they heard loud booms as Marines used explosives to clear coral reefs that blocked the amphibious ship’s path to shore.
The De Soto was one of three ships that arrived to transport evacuees. Those who boarded were allowed one suitcase for personal belongings. The ship took them to safety at Norfolk, Va., before picking up 800 Marines and returning to Guantanamo.
Half a century later, Lebano, of Worton, Md., began at Christiana Care a Parkinson’s-centered voice therapy called Lee Silverman Voice Treatment. Walstrum suggested he share a story about his experiences in the Navy. Lebano spoke of the Guantanamo mission.
Walstrum’s face assumed a strange look. Though she couldn’t remember the details, she had been, at age 4, among the evacuees at the base, where her father was stationed.
“There were just about 100 crew members on board the ship,” Lebano said, “and to meet someone who sailed with us 51 years later was enough to put a strange look on my face, too.”
During their next therapy session, Lebano gave Walstrum one of his two medals for good conduct. He couldn’t think of anyone, he says, who was more deserving. A little girl whom he and his fellow sailors rescued had come full circle to rescue him.