Music Therapy Helps Guitar Player Recover from Stroke

ANKENY, Iowa  —  Playing guitar is powerful for John Grzybowski. “I get lost in the music,” he said.

He was in a band called Prairie Drifters. “We play nursing homes, captive audience,” he laughed.

He played until he had a stroke in April, and then went to On With Life Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center after spending several weeks in the hospital. “When I first came here, I had musical aphasia. Amy would play something, and I couldn’t join in. It was frustrating.”

Now, music is medicine for the 73-year-old guitar player.

“And then all of a sudden with Amy working with him, I think he remembered, and the fingers started moving. And then I guess it triggered memories for him, and he could start to play, and now he can move those hands. Both of them,” said his wife, Louise Grzybowski.

Music Therapist Amy Bishop is a part of his rehabilitation at On With Life. She works with occupational, speech, and physical therapists as part of the therapy plan. “We use music and rhythm to help with gait and walking. We use music and rhythm to help with upper body movement, reaching for instruments to have that auditory and visual target to reach for,” she said.

In addition to helping him regain movement in his hand, music therapy improved his speech. It’s also helping him relearn to walk. Mrs. Grzybowski said, “He’s done really well. It’s been amazing to watch.”

In the next few years, they’ll be able to do music therapy outdoors. Plans are in place to build a Music Zen Garden as part of their therapeutic gardens at On With Life. “It’s kind of a dream to create outdoor instruments that can withstand weather and be out all the time in that therapeutic space,” said Bishop.

Grzybowski hopes to enjoy the space, but as a visitor. He’s now part of On With Life’s outpatient program.

“He’s doing really well, and music has definitely been an inspiration for him,” said Louise.

The Music Zen Garden will cost $50,000 to build. An event called Music and Mojitos will raise money for the project on Thursday, August 31st. The event will be held from 5-7 p.m. at On With Life’s new therapeutic gardens.

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