Medical Marvels

5 Amazing Stories That Show How Coastal Virginia’s Doctors Are Making Breakthroughs And Garnering National Attention

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The Beat Goes On
dr kamal chemaliTrina Stout remembers the confused look on her husband John’s face the night of Feb. 9, 2013, the night he suffered a stroke.

“He couldn’t talk, and then he could when the paramedics arrived,” says Trina, a teacher from Franklin.” “He lost speech again at the hospital; we think he might have had a second stroke.”

John’s large motor skills returned after he worked with physical therapists and occupational therapists, but he couldn’t speak much, despite speech therapy sessions.

Last summer, a friend of Trina’s attended a conference about strokes and heard neurological music therapist Tracy Bowdish speak. Impressed, the friend urged Trina to contact Tracy.  

Trina soon learned that Tracy is part of the Sentara Music and Medicine Center and works with patients who want to speak or move more freely. She also conducts research, coordinates community events and teaches students, all under the direction of Dr. Kamal Chemali, a neurologist and pianist who created the Center, one of just a few in the country, in 2010.

“Music works,” says Dr. Chemali. “All civilizations have known this since the dawn of ages, and we now have proof. We can help people with Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, stroke, language and cognitive disorders, anxiety disorders and walking disorders.”

Chemali is currently conducting two studies related to music’s healing powers, analyzing rhythm, melody, harmony and tempo and the body’s physiological responses to each.

“I’m looking at all the components of music and how we combine them for the best results,” he says.

No doubt that patients like John and many others stand to benefit from music.

John already has: Because of his stroke, he suffers from expressive aphasia, a condition in which a person knows what he wants to say but can’t. Tracy used melodic intonation therapy to make it a little easier for him to speak.  

“People who have expressive aphasia often retain their ability to sing.
In melodic intonation therapy, the therapist sets meaningful phrases to music. I used ‘Hello, my name is John,’ first,” Tracy explains. “I composed a melody that accentuated the accents and inflection of the spoken phrase. I first hummed the phrase, tapping John’s left hand to give additional rhythmical cues. Then, John hummed the tune with me. From there, I added the words and taught it to John.”

Next, Tracy faded out the melody so that John was speaking the words.

“This technique uses music to tap into other neural networks to help a patient regain his ability to speak,” Tracy says. “It is a form of rewiring around the damaged area of the brain to once again produce speech.”

Trina was thrilled that John responded immediately to the music therapy.

“We were amazed at the progress he made just from the first visit. It worked!,” she says. “After each session John was given a CD of the phrases Tracy taught, and he was encouraged to practice these at home. As our sessions ended with Tracy, she helped me learn how to work with John at home more.”

A year later, John and Trina continue to do so.

“John is speaking a whole lot,” says Trina, “and he’s excited for the summer, when I’m home after teaching all year. He tells me, ‘we study!’”

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