The Backstrokes regain their voice at OHSU

A group of stroke survivors found their voice again in a musical group called The Backstrokes at OHSU, June 5, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)
A group of stroke survivors found their voice again in a musical group called The Backstrokes at OHSU, June 5, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In 2008, Lee Jordan woke up from a nap and couldn’t move. She suffered a stroke. That same year Phil Liu had a stroke and had to relearn everything.

Stroke survivor (and harmonica player) Phil Liu found his voice again in a musical group called The Backstrokes at OHSU, June 5, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)

Stroke survivor (and harmonica player) Phil Liu found his voice again in a musical group called The Backstrokes at OHSU, June 5, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)

“At that point I felt like a vegetable because I couldn’t speak and everything was locked in the brain,” he said.

Now they — and others — have found their voice and some healing through music in a group known as The Backstrokes.

“I couldn’t talk and I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t do anything,” Jordan told KOIN 6 News. “I’ve learned words and I can string together a conversation now.”

She sings and Liu wails on his harmonica in the group put together by Anne Tillinghast at the Oregon Stroke Center at OHSU.

Over the past year-and-a-half, she has helped forge the group’s medley — stroke survivors who sing the sweetest notes they’ve ever heard.

“[There are] wonderful benefits that music would give for stroke survivors, so we thought let’s try it. And so we tried it and people kept coming,” she said. “The first day a stroke survivor visits and Phil opens up on the harmonica and I see their face kind of open up with this huge grin, and I’m like,’Yeah, they’re here.’”

Doctors say music hits a sweet spot in our brains.

Dr. Wayne Clark of the OHSU Stroke Center, June 5, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)

Dr. Wayne Clark of the OHSU Stroke Center, June 5, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)

“This part of the brain trying to work and this part of the brain, if it doesn’t have music it’s firing away,” said Dr. Wayne Clark of the OHSU Stroke Center. “And it’s inhibiting that side trying to get the words out.”

In harmony with technology, the trapped voice can slowly beat to life. Clark said he repeats a beat “several times so the patient has the tune going. Now we’re going to link that phrase to this.”

Though the road to recovery is long, music is the key to a song of life.

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