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Patient stories

  • Moving back to music after a stroke

    David Rohan of St. Paul Park, Minnesota experienced a stroke this past spring at the age of 39. During hospitalization, he had to be intubated and received a tracheostomy. He also had a GI tube due to impaired swallowing. In addition, he was diagnosed with stress cardiomyopathy. Nevertheless, he progressed to walking with the use of a platform walker before he was discharged from the hospital.

    Rohan transitioned to outpatient therapy at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute - United Hospital. During the course of his therapy, he made great progress in mobility, balance and decreased risk for falls, according to his physical therapist, Jennifer Steele, PT, DPT, NCS. He was able to participate in dynamic activities during therapy, including rapid transitional movements and coordination activities such as jumping and skipping. He can now walk without an assistive device or gait belt.

    Rohan is also participating in speech therapy. "In Dave's case specifically," said Steele, "the number and wide range of caregivers involved in his care speaks volumes to success that can happen when the 'whole self' is treated in a trans-disciplinary care model."

    Steele also remarked on how Rohan's hard work has inspired other patients who are being treated at the same time in the gym. They are motivated to challenge themselves to set and achieve higher goals. His wife, Deb, has also encouraged other caregivers; and both of them have maintained contact with patients they met along Rohan's journey, concerned about those patients' recovery and well being.

    Steele summed it up by saying, "From a therapist's point of view, patients like Dave allow us to join in the joys of success and most importantly remind us why we do what we do." As he moves back to music instruction, Rohan will serve as a model that life after a stroke is still possible and enjoyable - and worth all the hard work.

    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 at the clinic. He was diagnosed as having focal dystonia, a movement disorder that causes the muscles to contract and spasm involuntarily. He was 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.

    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."

  • David Rohan

    David Rohan is a 2013 Inspiration Award winner

    Billy McLaughlin poses with guitar

    For more on Billy McLaughlin, his background and his ongoing efforts to raise awareness of dystonia and support research for a cure, go to