Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Guitarist Overcomes Diagnosis with Music

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Guitarist Overcomes Diagnosis with Music

Article excerpt

Pittsburgh musician Adam Rook is a living testament to music's healing power.

A trained classical guitarist, Mr. Rook, 34, began experiencing symptoms of focal dystonia shortly after finishing a master's degree at Duquesne University seven years ago. Focal dystonia is a neurological condition that causes involuntary contractions and movements in a muscle or muscle group in a specific part of the body - in Mr. Rook's case, his right hand.

"It's usually a career-ending diagnosis for a musician and lasts a lifetime," said Mr. Rook, who now works Downtown as a counselor in vocational services for people with disabilities.

Mr. Rook of Polish Hill is preparing to release an EP of classical guitar solos titled "Metanoia" that he has recorded since recovering from focal dystonia. He also performs gigs at nursing homes through the organization Musicians With a Mission, which places Pittsburgh musicians in various health care settings.

"Dystonia in itself is very difficult to deal with - everyday activities like writing or typing become strenuous," he said. "The process of recovery is uncertain. It took years and involved cycles of setbacks and discouragement. To lose something as basic as the use of your right hand challenges or even breaks part of your sense of identity, particularly when it's connected to your profession and dreams of being a musician."

Focal dystonia is rare but not unheard of in musicians. There is a closed online Facebook group for Musicians With Focal Dystonia that has 836 members. Dystonia affects as many as 250,000 people in the U.S. and is the third most common movement disorder behind essential tremor and Parkinson's disease. Focal dystonia, a specific sort of dystonia, affects an estimated 7 to 69 per million people, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

While performing was completely impossible seven years ago for Mr. Rook, he has worked his "way back to performance level" through neuroplasticity rehabilitation, a growing area of research that emphasizes the ability of the central nervous system to accomplish structural and functional change in response to new experiences. …

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