MUSIC AS MEDICINE Willow Song Music Therapy Center Offers Unique Help, Particularly for Stroke Victims and Dementia Sufferers

By Hval, Cindy | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), November 6, 2016 | Go to article overview

MUSIC AS MEDICINE Willow Song Music Therapy Center Offers Unique Help, Particularly for Stroke Victims and Dementia Sufferers


Hval, Cindy, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


Alex Owens, 8, tossed his head as he pounded out a syncopated rhythm on a drum at Willow Song Music Therapy Center in Otis Orchards on a recent evening.

There's joy in his movements. He paused, leaned in and waited for music therapist Carla Carnegie to repeat the rhythm on her own drum.

Blind since birth, Alex has been working with Carnegie for a little over a year. The board-certified music therapist uses the tools of her trade; piano, drums, guitar and autoharp, to help Alex navigate his world with confidence, learn important social cues and strengthen his fingers. Finger dexterity and strength is crucial for the Post Falls third-grader who uses a variety of Braille devices in the classroom and at home.

"Music and movement next?" he asked. "Brown-Eyed Girl?"

And soon he was dancing across the room with Carnegie, holding her hand and humming in harmony with the song.

"His personality comes out especially when he's singing," said his mother, Fawn Owens, as she watched. "He talks about Carla all week long. His attention span is much longer now."

The new space in Otis Orchards offers Carnegie room to continue the work she loves while also providing a place for the community to gather. As Alex and his mother left, people trickled in for a Drumming for Wellness and Joy workshop. The group meets on Mondays at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.

ACCIDENT CHANGES LIFE PATH

Community is important to Carnegie, 59, a lifelong Spokane Valley resident. The community rallied around her family when tragedy struck in 1971. Carnegie, then 14, was walking along Trent Road with her mother and sister when they were hit by a drunk driver.

"It was a rainy, dark night. We never saw him coming for some reason, even though we were facing traffic, and walking on the shoulder, well off the road," she said.

Her mother was spared, but her sister was killed and Carnegie critically injured. She spent 45 days in the hospital, suffering from multiple broken bones and head and internal injuries. After undergoing several surgeries, she was sent home in a body cast - just in time to celebrate her 15th birthday.

Her life forever changed. More than three months after the accident, she returned to school part time, with her right leg in an immobilizer. For the once active teen, adjusting to her new limitations proved daunting.

"I'd always been athletic," she said. "I'd planned to work as a lifeguard to pay for college and then go on to nursing school."

But just keeping up with her high school studies was exhausting.

"It was extremely difficult, as I couldn't seem to hold anything in my brain for any length of time," said Carnegie. "Studying was more than fatiguing. This is all part of what a person with a traumatic brain injury goes through in trying to live life normally again."

College seemed out of reach. While she was hospitalized, Rick Carnegie, a fellow West Valley student who worked for her dad, visited frequently. They fell in love and she married him as soon as they graduated from high school.

She was told she'd never be able to have kids because of her injuries, but gave birth to four healthy children.

When her youngest graduated from high school, Carnegie decided it was time to pursue her dreams. She enrolled at Spokane Falls Community College to study music in 2004 and later transferred to Whitworth University.

'MUSIC WAS THE GLUE THAT HELD ME TOGETHER'

Music has always been a part of her life and was pivotal in her recovery after the accident.

"I grew up in a musical family," she said. "My home was filled with live music. Music was the glue that held me together mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and physically, as I used much loved folk tunes I had played - jigs and reels on fiddle - to provide the foundation to learn to walk again."

While studying at Whitworth, she learned about the music therapy degree. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in music in 2009, she looked for a college that offered a degree in music therapy. …

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