facebook icon twitter icon youtube icon

Coding for a Cause

When Simpson Computer Science Professor Mark Brodie suffered a stroke in 2019, he couldn't imagine that it would spark one of his most important coding projects. Inspired by what he learned during his rehabilitation process, Brodie and his wife, Carolyn — also a Simpson computer science faculty member — partnered to create an app to help other stroke survivors.


Mark Brodie was at home grading papers when he suddenly couldn't gather his thoughts. He wasn't sure what was happening, but he knew something was wrong and called out to Carolyn. When she came upstairs, Carolyn knew something was seriously wrong and he told her to call 911. When they reached the hospital, a series of tests showed Mark was having a stroke. As an immediate result, he was unable to speak.

Mark was experiencing two different conditions, aphasia and apraxia. Aphasia is the loss of the ability to understand or express speech. Mark described struggling with aphasia when he was asked to name animals, "I could think in my mind, 'oh there is cat and there is dog,' but then I couldn't really think of any other animals," said Mark.

He was also suffering “apraxia of speech.” Mark described this as being able to think the word he wanted to say in his head, but his brain just couldn't make his mouth say it out loud. Doctors told Mark and Carolyn that improvement could come daily, but it would be more noticeable over the coming months. After four days of inpatient therapy, Mark had already managed to utter a few words.

Progressing to Programming

Though regaining his speech was the top priority, Mark was ready to work on some of his other abilities. "A lot of my other skills had been destroyed. Typing, spelling, my ability to do math and my ability to do programming had been affected," said Mark. So, with his language quickly recovering, Mark was on the lookout for a coding project to help him retrieve his skills.

In an early therapy session, one of Mark's therapists mentioned that teaching patients how to manage their finances again is a common activity they do with those recovering from a brain injury. Following that, a visiting therapist spontaneously mentioned to Mark her need for an online banking app to use for therapy. At the time, Mark filed this idea away as he focused on his own recovery. But once he completed his therapy in May of 2020, he and Carolyn were ready to get to work.

Mark and Carolyn reached out to therapist Lisa Raymond, who had initially prompted their banking app idea. "We ended up staying in contact with her and inviting her to lunch. The app came up in conversation there, in this informal non-professional setting," said Carolyn. Near the beginning of June, the Brodies reached out again to see if they could discuss further. Raymond was happy to help.

The app-building process began with Mark and Carolyn asking Raymond what she needed for an effective banking app. Over the next few months, Mark and Carolyn wrote and implemented code one bit at a time, and the day soon came when the app was ready for installation. In February 2021, Lisa began using Mark and Carolyn's app with actual patients. She has since shared the app with her co-workers, who also use it for therapy.

In reflecting on Mark's recovery and the app-building process, Mark and Carolyn say none of it would have been possible without the incredible support they received from the Simpson community. "People were doing things to help us from day one. Whatever we needed," said Carolyn. "Faculty in our department stepped up and took on our classes. Staff, students and faculty sent cards. And it seemed like we were getting food to our home every day," added Mark.

Today, Mark and Carolyn remain faculty fixtures at Simpson, preparing the next generation of computer scientists to not just crack codes, but to program with purpose.