Wednesday March 23, 2016

Allison's Brain

Allison Woyiwada (right) with husband Robert McMechan and daughter Marya.

Allison Woyiwada (right) with husband Robert McMechan and daughter Marya.

Listen to Full Episode 53:59

In 2011, Allison Woyiwada -- a retired music teacher  -- was told that she had a giant brain aneurysm. After surgery, she experienced severe cognitive and physical defects. But then she began a programme of music therapy: this is the remarkable story of her brain's recovery. **This episode originally aired February 19, 2015.

"When Allison went into rehab, the speech pathologist told us that she didn't understand she had communication difficulties.  She said it wasn't possible to get Allison to work, because she didn't know there was a problem. She was talking to Allison, and it was like she was in the middle of China. No one knew what she was saying…. But then time passed, and Allison became aware of the shortcomings. She became more aware of them, and she worked harder. It was a long road in the beginning. She worked on really basic vocabulary—like what are body parts. What are their names? What are clothing article's names? I can remember being at sessions with the speech therapist where Allison would insist that her shoes were T-shirts. It was a long process. But as time passed, she became more fluent.  Even by the time she was discharged from rehab—though she had very rudimentary vocabulary, when she came home, she didn't know the names of anything in the house." -- Bob McMechan

Music therapist Cheryl Jones worked with Allison on her journey to recovery using a therapy called MIT: Melodic intonation therapy.

Cheryl Jones neurological music therapist ottawa

(Julie Ireton/CBC)

  "​It was developed back in the early 1970s by two individuals-- Holland and Spark. What they discovered was that people who had a stroke or aphasia lost their ability to speak. They couldn't communicate verbally. However, they could sing. Their singing ability was completely intact. So they developed Melodic Intonation Therapy. In that therapy, what you do is you target a phrase, and you put it to a melody. You use the melody to cue the words. The patients that they were observing couldn't say "I'm hungry." But they could very easily and very fluently sing "Happy Birthday." They decided to take a phrase like "I'm hungry", and put it to melody, to see if people could then communicate what they wanted to say.  In fact, many of them could. Hence MIT was born." -- Cheryl Jones

Allison's Brain by Robert McMechan & Allison Woyiwada  is published by Friesen Press.

Watch video of Allison playing the piano for the first time after her brain surgery:

Allison plays piano for the first time after brain surgery0:57


Related Websites:

Allison Woyiwada's blog - Allison's Brain