Pa­tients find heal­ing, surety in Sen­tara’s mu­sic pro­gram

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY RASHOD OL­LI­SON

NOR­FOLK, VA. | When the Johnny Cash melody frus­trates James Ro­driguez, he chuck­les, shakes his head and says, “I don’t know.”

Tracy Bowdish gen­tly pushes him, tak­ing his hand into hers as she leans closer and sings, in bell-clear per­fect pitch, lyrics from “I Walk the Line.” The goal is to get Mr. Ro­driguez to find the words, still a dif­fi­cult task since his stroke in sum­mer 2011.

But the Nor­folk res­i­dent’s progress has been re­mark­able, says San­dra, Mr. Ro­driguez’s wife of 47 years, who sits within arm’s reach of him, nod­ding.

They’re all in a small room inside Fort Nor­folk Med­i­cal Cen­ter — Mr. Ro­driguez in his wheel­chair and Ms. Bowdish on a low stool sand­wiched be­tween an im­pos­ing key­board and a com­puter desk.

Ms. Bowdish is a mu­sic ther­a­pist with Sen­tara’s Mu­sic and Medicine Cen­ter. In a pro­mo­tional clip for the pro­gram, she men­tions that her blind­ness helps her to en­gage pa­tients, to “see who they are be­yond the stroke.”

As Ms. Bowdish holds Mr. Ro­driguez’s hand, sing­ing lyrics she wants him to re­peat, his frus­tra­tion dis­ap­pears. Ms. Bowdish then pats around for the gui­tar be­hind her and strums the chords one more time. Mr. Ro­driguez joins her on the cho­rus. His words, though slurred, are clearer, his tone more con­fi­dent as he sings, “be­cause you’re mine I walk the line.”

The Mu­sic and Medicine Cen­ter, a part of Sen­tara Neu­ro­sciences In­sti­tute, has ex­tended its reach well be­yond re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion rooms in which Ms. Bowdish and other ther­a­pists use rhyth­mic stim­u­la­tion and syn­chro­niza­tion to cre­ate move­ment and drive speech in pa­tients with neu­ro­log­i­cal dam­age.

The pro­gram also spon­sors a lunchtime jazz show­case in the lobby of Sen­tara Heart Hos­pi­tal in Nor­folk. The next show is on Wed­nes­day.

Gad Brosch, who re­tired from ob­stet­rics and gy­ne­col­ogy 23 years ago, is among the mu­si­cians who play in the show­case. He de­votes much of his time th­ese days to the jazz he’s loved since his child­hood in Is­rael.

“When I re­tired, I was think­ing about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” says Mr. Brosch, a pi­anist who has played the Stein­way in the hos­pi­tal’s airy lobby once a month for the past four years. “There’s life af­ter you re­tire, and for me there’s the mu­sic.”

Stylish in a tie zigzagged with red stripes and piano keys; Mr. Brosch says pa­tients were wheeled down in the lobby to lis­ten when he first started play­ing there. But for lo­gis­ti­cal rea­sons, that isn’t done any­more.

Still, his straight-ahead takes on the Amer­i­can Song­book soothe out­pa­tients and vis­i­tors. The un­ob­tru­sive mu­sic not only bright­ens the at­mos­phere, it also serves a clin­i­cal pur­pose, chiefly to help re­lieve anx­i­ety. This is a much more ac­ces­si­ble, stream­lined ver­sion of what the Mu­sic and Medicine Cen­ter of­fers its pa­tients.

“The ba­sic phys­i­ol­ogy of our bod­ies is rhyth­mic in na­ture; there­fore it is strongly af­fected by ex­ter­nal rhythms, which are an essential com­po­nent of mu­sic,” says Ka­mal Che­mali, a neu­rol­o­gist and di­rec­tor of the Mu­sic and Medicine Cen­ter. “Our brains are hard-wired for mu­sic. There­fore, mu­sic, more than any other form of art, ac­ti­vates neu­rons in most of our brain, and by do­ing so, re­ac­ti­vates ar­eas that were dam­aged, and cre­ates new con­nec­tions be­tween nerve cells to by­pass the dam­aged ar­eas. This leads in many cases to dra­matic im­prove­ment and re­cov­ery of func­tion.”

The pro­gram is largely ben­e­fi­cial for pa­tients deal­ing with cer­tain con­di­tions, in­clud­ing: mul­ti­ple sclero­sis, gait dis­or­ders, Parkinson’s dis­ease, and lan­guage and mem­ory dis­or­ders.

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