For more on Billy McLaughlin, his background and his ongoing efforts to raise awareness of dystonia and support research for a cure, go to billymclaughlin.com.
Musician resumed career despite debilitating condition
Billy McLaughlin's love of the guitar began when he was in 7th grade. He played through his teens, earned a degree in guitar performance at the University of California and went on to become a star in the 1980s, touring the country and performing more than 200 concerts a year.
Then in 1998, a freak fall on an icy patch of ground began a downward spiral. Despite physical therapy on his injured hand, he no longer had the ability to play the guitar effortlessly and without errors.
McLaughlin said, "What was shocking to me was missing notes and phrases I'd played perfectly THOUSANDS of times without thinking. Losing control of my body, of my music, of the beauty of the moment, of the simplest series of notes, was not only shocking and humiliating - it was utterly unexplainable!"
For the next few years, McLaughlin saw therapists and specialists to no avail, and was even told that his condition might be psychological, perhaps even "hysteria." He faded from the musical scene.
Then in 2001, McLaughlin made an appointment to see Jennine Speier, MD, physiatrist and lead physician at Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute's Musicians' Clinic.
Within minutes, Speier diagnosed him as having focal dystonia, a movement disorder that causes the muscles to contract and spasm involuntarily. Speier told him that he wasn't losing his mind, but rather that "his brain was losing his fingers."
"Diagnosis was the first step for me," said McLaughlin. I had been stuck until I knew what was wrong. Now I could move forward and plan for my life. As I got my head around the fact of my diagnosis, I was left with a tough choice and knew I'd have to do something quite unusual."
And that he did! After 25 years of playing the guitar right handed, he began to teach himself to play with his left hand. While he admits that he can't do everything he did before, he has adapted well enough to resume his musical career with remarkable success.
This fall, Twins Cities Public Television (tpt) is airing several broadcasts of McLaughlin's Starry Night with Orchestra NOVA.
McLaughlin advises others to "make the best of what you have, knowing that you have new things to discover and can learn to adapt to anything that comes your way."