Music helping teen heal after stroke

FOX Medical Team

Music helping teen heal after stroke

Posted: Updated:
ACWORTH, Ga. -

The connection between music and language is helping a young stroke survivor fill in the missing pieces in his life.

It's been a long road for Nicki, Avery and Steven Eubanks. As Avery, their oldest son, was growing up, doctors told the Eubanks that a narrowing in Avery's carotid arteries left him at risk of a having a stroke.   

On Dec. 13th, the Allatoona High School senior began acting disoriented.

"Anybody else, I think we would've said, sleep longer, maybe they're just coming down with something. But with him, we were always nervous, and everything, we have to really pay attention to those kinds of things.  So the first thing we thought of was, ‘He probably had a stroke,'" said Nicki Eubanks.

The Eubanks, unfortunately, were correct.  A major stroke had damaged the left side of Avery's brain, which controls his speech and much more.
    
"He couldn't walk, he couldn't move the right side of his body, he couldn't swallow," Nicki Eubanks said.

Avery struggled to make words come out after the stroke.  It's a condition called aphasia, the loss of the ability to speak and process what others are saying.

One of the first words to come back to him was "Mom."

"Everybody is mom. Dad is mom. The dogs are mom. Everybody is mom at this point," Nicki Eubanks said.
 
The hospital that saved Avery had a stroke rehabilitation program for older folks, not teenagers.

"The things they gave us to help communicate, they were pictures, pictures of dentures and walkers and things that he had no idea what they were.  Hearing aids.  He's 18 years old," said Nicki Eubanks.

So the Eubanks went to Shepherd Center, looking for a program that would challenge Avery.   He's now an outpatient at Shepherd Pathways in Decatur, where music specialist Thomas Miller is trying to help his brain reawaken and rewire itself.

Once a week for an hour Avery and Thomas work together. Slowly -- sometimes spontaneously -- the words are coming back.

"So as he starts to remember a song that he sang, a chorus, he just comes right out and sings the chorus. He's not thinking about it. His brain is not having to think about what word to say, how to make his mouth move," Steven Eubanks said.

Slowly, Avery's parents can see him making progress.

"I think it's got to be very difficult on him, not being able to talk. And knowing that he can just automatically be able to pop a word out that just comes out of nowhere, a complicated word, it gives him confidence he can say it," said Steven Eubanks.

Avery Eubanks has a long way to go, but his parents are hoping the music will bring him back.


Speech pathologist Lateia Scott says when patients first join the Pathways program, they start with simple songs like "Happy Birthday." Gradually they move on to more complex songs.

Avery spends about 20 hours a week at Shepherd Pathways. Music therapy is just one hour a week, but it's his favorite hour.

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