My Musical Healing

MY MUSICAL HEALING

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COMMUNITY STORIES | 8.30.2017 | BY Connor Derraugh

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Music’s always been a big part of my life. In Grade 9, I played piano in the school jazz band, saxophone in concert band and piano, guitar and vocals in a rock band. I’ve always been determined to continue to pursue my life of music despite my injury.

Since a young age, music has always been an important part of my life.

Since a young age, music has always been an important part of my life.

In 2010, 3 days after my 15th birthday, I underwent routine day surgery to repair a badly deviated septum. Something went disastrously wrong and bone fragments shot into my brain causing hemorrhages in my left frontal lobe and the subdural layer (between my brain and skull.) I spent a perilous week in intensive care and a month in Children’s Hospital recovering. I was initially paralyzed on my right side, my Executive Function skills were greatly compromised, and I lost my sense of smell. I had to relearn much of what I’d previously taken for granted, but my most difficult challenge was finding a way to play music again.

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More than 7 years have passed but I’m still improving. Doctors told me that after 2 years my recovery would end. They were so wrong! The human brain’s the most complex structure in the world, which is why it takes so long to rebuild after a TBI. Experts used to think that once the brain was injured it would never improve. Now they know that the brain is plastic and can heal itself. It’s just like muscle. Work out and your muscles grow. Challenge your brain and it builds new neural pathways. The brain’s forced to respond and it does!

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Sleep is essential because that’s when the brain has a chance to heal. I still need more sleep than normal, but that means that my brain is still healing. So, I do my best to not cheat on sleep. Staying away from drugs and alcohol is also important because the brain is very fragile during recovery and the last thing it needs is to be negatively affected. When people ask why I don’t drink or do drugs I say, ‘They slow down your brain! I’m doing everything I can to speed my brain up!’

For me, maintaining a positive attitude has really helped me to move forward. I’ve never asked, ‘Why me?’ Instead, I ask, ‘What can I do to improve my brain?’ Despite the obstacles, I’ve refused to give up on becoming a musician. My goal since my first summer jazz camp back in Grade 7 was to study jazz at the University of Manitoba. While relearning how to walk in the hospital I told my Dad, ‘I’m going to Jazz Camp this summer and there’s nothing you can do to stop me!’

'With time and a lot of hard work, my right hand continues to recover.'

'With time and a lot of hard work, my right hand continues to recover.'

My parents were supportive but skeptical as my right hand couldn’t even make a sound on the piano. Two months later I attended camp despite playing with only my left hand. Fast forward to today and I’m now in my final year of Jazz Studies at the U of M, completing a double major in piano and saxophone. The hard work that I’ve put in to get here wouldn’t have been possible if I’d let my challenges get me down.

'Meeting my hero, sax legend David Sanborn who also overcame paralysis with music. He's been a big inspiration!'

'Meeting my hero, sax legend David Sanborn who also overcame paralysis with music. He's been a big inspiration!'

When you get up in the morning, you determine your attitude. Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future, live for today and make it the best day possible! Send out positive vibes and good things will surely follow!

'With my brother Tyler and Kevin and Adam Pearce at my first Love Your Brain Retreat'

'With my brother Tyler and Kevin and Adam Pearce at my first Love Your Brain Retreat'

When I’d exhausted traditional therapies, I turned to alternative healing techniques. My Dad investigated a number of emerging therapies such as LED Light Therapy, Omega 3 Fish Oils and Nootropics (brain vitamins.) We’ve found them to be safe and effective and I’d recommend that you check them out. To blaze new neural pathways to my right hand, I developed a unique therapy. When I practice piano, I play it with my right hand only while my strong left hand is occupied with brain games on my iPad. It’s a brain therapy multi-task double play! I also make physical exercise a part of my day because raising my heart rate increases the oxygen flow to my brain. I lift weights, ride my bike, and go for long walks. When I hit the road, I often change my route to challenge my brain.

'Exercise is great therapy for you brain!'

'Exercise is great therapy for you brain!'

I’ve been super privileged to attend the annual Love Your Brain Retreats. Previous to my first camp, I’d yet to meet another TBI survivor. At the LoveYourBrain retreat I’m surrounded by survivors, each with their own unique story to tell. It’s been the best group therapy for me. Being a part of the LoveYourBrain Community has helped me heal in so many ways! The incredible support of friends, family, and LoveYourBrain has made a huge difference in my recovery. My many music teachers have shown great faith in me despite my deficits and I have them to thank for where I am today.

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They say that it takes a village to raise a child and it certainly takes a community to heal a brain injury Survivor. Since my TBI, I live every day like it’s my last. My motto is that I got a second chance at life and I’m going to make the most of it!