Music Therapy Helped A Katy Teen Learn To Walk Again After A Spinal Cord Injury


Music Therapy Helped A Katy Teen Learn To Walk Again After A Spinal Cord Injury

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Music Therapy Helped A Katy Teen Learn To Walk Again After A Spinal Cord Injury
Music Therapy Helped A Katy Teen Learn To Walk Again After A Spinal Cord Injury

This story contains a discussion of suicide and depression. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of self-harm, call or text 988 or visit to chat with someone on the Suicide and Crisis Helpline.

When John Barrow tried to stand for the first time since his spinal injury, he was only able to do it a minute before he had to sit down.

So her team of therapists at the TIRR Herman Memorial Center decided to play the song while Barrow stood. He stopped for four and a half minutes on his first attempt.

Music has always been a big part of Barrow's life. The 18-year-old plays guitar with the Houston-area rock group The Banned and can play the piano, cello and ukulele. The team that oversaw his rehabilitation at TIRR recognized him as an ideal candidate for music therapy, which uses music to help patients achieve their goals.

Music makes you forget the pain, but it also helps lift your spirits. Its success is the latest encouraging sign for Barrow, who was diagnosed with clinical depression at 15 and suffered spinal injuries, a pair of broken ankles and a broken elbow during a suicide attempt on 28 August.

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If you or someone you know is having thoughts of self-harm, call or text 988 or visit to chat with someone on the Suicide and Crisis Helpline.

Adults can call 832-416-1177 and youth can call 832-416-1199 or text 281-201-4430 to contact Crisis Intervention of Houston.

Over the past six months, the support of her family, her psychiatrist and the TIRR therapy team has greatly improved Barrow's mental health. Determined to regain his strength through rehabilitation, he aspires to go to university. He is looking forward to performing at the White Oak Music Hall on February 23 at ReelMusic 2023 which will feature artists with disabilities. Her music therapist at TIRR, Ty Walcott, will play with her.

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"I'm in much better shape than before," Barrow said. "Now I have a better outlook on life."

Barrow was transferred to Texas Medical Center's TIRR Memorial Hermann for inpatient rehabilitation in September, less than a month after undergoing surgery for his injury. Each patient receives an assessment that helps the therapist develop a treatment plan. Her occupational therapist Katie Nedley asked her what she liked.

"The immediate response to music is to say, 'Okay, we need to turn up the music,'" explains Nedley.

Music therapy has been used alongside physiotherapy for decades, but over time it has become increasingly popular with patients who have suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury, or suffer from conditions such as Parkinson's. Studies have shown that it has a positive effect on motor skills and walking ability, and can also increase patient motivation during rehabilitation.

Barrow's rehabilitation took place in two phases. Walcott, Nedley and physical therapist Jordan Birdsong worked together to come up with a treatment plan.

During the first stage, Barrow learned to tolerate pain from sitting up in bed, being in a wheelchair, and moving around. He is also learning to regain function in his right arm after breaking his elbow.

“Physiotherapy can definitely hurt, but I've learned to knock on the pain door and walk out,” Barrow says. "That's how you can grow and improve."

Music helps him achieve his goal in the first stage. Walcott played guitar and let Barrow play drums as he sat up in bed. And it's easier for him to use his right hand when he's doing something fun, like playing the ukulele.

After three weeks, Barrow returned home to "rest" between legs. The rest is to give the body more time to recover and the pain will subside. But it also motivates patients before the second stage, Nedley says.

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"It kind of helps increase the motivation to become more independent," she says. "Because they say, 'I don't want my mother to take care of me forever.'"

For Barrow, it also gave him time to get more headroom. He was discouraged in the first stage and still feels depressed. But the support of her family and therapists, as well as medications from her psychiatrist, helped change her attitude as the second phase began.

He returned to TIRR after Thanksgiving to work for another three weeks. His team noticed the difference as soon as he arrived.

"There's a real moment — and you don't know when it's going to happen — when you suddenly see who they were before the injury," Nedley said. "Suddenly when you walk into a room one day you know it's Jonah."

The second phase aims to relearn to stand and walk and includes daily 90-minute sessions of physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Barrow is also taking online classes to catch up on homework.

Music has the same effect in the second stage. At one point, Barrow might stand for four or five minutes. But when Walcott gave him a guitar, he was able to hold out for 15 years.

“He was very motivated during the session without Ty and worked really hard. But he can walk faster and farther or stand longer during a music therapy session, Birdsong said. "And that doesn't need to be conscious."

Such effects aren't limited to those like Barrow, who love music. The brain responds to rhythm and melody in ways that activate the functioning of other parts of the brain, Walcott explains.

"Using certain songs with a certain beat will help him move to a certain beat for a while," she says.

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Barrow and Walcott also formed a relationship during the sessions; They share the songs they like. Barrow has diverse tastes in music, but her favorites include pop artists like Finneas, Olivia Rodrigo and Billy Eilish.

When he was released before Christmas, Barrow was able to use a manual wheelchair and walked well enough to get around the house with a walker. He will begin his outpatient rehabilitation later this month. It's hard to say how much functionality it will restore, but there's hope it will continue to improve, Birdsong said.

"I think it's too early to tell, but it has great potential to move forward and move forward and be more independent than it is now," she said.

For now, Barrow hopes to graduate from Paetow High School this spring. He has been accepted into the Los Angeles College of Music and intends to pursue a career in music production.

He also enjoyed his ReelMusic performance. This event is part of the ReelAbilities Houston Film & Arts Festival, which is open to people with disabilities.

Walcott was asked if he knew of anyone who would like to perform at ReelMusic, and he suggested Barrow.

Together they performed three songs: Andy Grammar's "Honey, I'm Good", Jason Mraz's "Lucky" and Finneas' "Let's Fall in Love for the Night". The first two came from Walcott's reading lists for his patients; the third is Barrow's favourite.

More importantly, Barrow believes her success in rehab can demonstrate that support can be sought when someone is in crisis. Hope anyone thinking about harming themselves calls someone to talk.

"After the operation and the transfer to TIRR, I met many therapists and doctors who wanted me to get better and who showed me that the future could be even better," she says. "I am very grateful to them."

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