Meet Paul, who has rediscovered his voice through music

The following is excerpted from Paul David Wilson’s article, “Lost and Found.”

You can read the full article here: 

On Friday, January 1, 1999, New Years Day, I have a stroke. In the hospital, a friend talks to me.  I want to respond but I cannot communicate.  I do not know how.  It is the first glance of years to come.

One of the nurses hands the release forms to me, and I look at them.  I am puzzled.   I cannot read nor write, much less sign my name. It is the second glance of years to come.

The doctors reveal that I had an ischemic CVA of left MCA hemorrhagic transformation, a lack of glucose and oxygen supply, a stroke, and inability to understand or formulate speech…Aphasia.

My instrument, my voice: the lungs, diaphragm, trachea, the larynx, supraglottal system, and the articulators was… Lost. My vocabulary: the words learned from years of experience throughout childhood up to the stroke; the tool for communication was… Lost.  The Articulation: lips, jaw, and other organs for making sounds was… Lost.  Semantics: the meanings of words was… Lost. Syntax: the principles and rules for constructing sentences was… Lost.  The Enunciation: speaking clearly and concisely was… Lost.  The Sequence: as is the numbers and the alphabet was… Lost.  The Rhythm: the pulse, the beat was… Lost. But the intelligence is…..Intact.

I have to relearn my instrument – MY HUMAN VOICE!

A couple days a week, I receive some basic communication and physical therapy from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.  If you are familiar with Stroke/Aphasia, well, you know the drill:  saying and spelling my name, signing my signature and an address, brushing my teeth and strengthening my limbs.  All the little things, I have to learn all over again.  And speech – it’s a whole new ballgame!

Almost at the end of my stay, my wife is visiting me and I say with a weak and measured tone, “Retire,……sell house,……. move Hawaii.”  Years back, one of our plans was to one day retire and move to Hawaii.  I say to myself now, “Well, this is it,…..I guess!”  In mid-February, I am going to resign from the label and then I am going to retire.  I am 46 years old.

Wednesday, February 10, 1999: My front door chimes are ringing and somebody is outside my door.  It’s Frank Thomas’ attorney.  He is very sorry to hear about my stroke, but, he is here to hand delivered a letter of my resignation.  Long before this, I knew that I could not reside as president now because of my Aphasia.  But still, it was final, so I cried.

My life was always busy; I went from meetings to meetings, to writing, to starting different assignments and the cycle continued. I was the top performer in my field: songwriter, arranger, conductor, producer and business owner.  After my stroke there were no meetings, no assignments, no “think tanks.”  I was given a “TIME OUT.”  We had a garden in the backyard of our home and I took this time to sit down and smell the roses.  I began to plant, to water and over night I became a gardener.

In fall of 2001, We found a home in Maui and it is fantastic! It is peaceful, calm and private and our neighbors are all families, and “good people.”  We met friends on the island and who turned out to be life long friends.

I continue my recovery.

In spring, April 2005, my wife, Terry, and I, got divorced.  I was starting a new chapter. I decided to move back to Chicago.

In September 2005, I found a nice condo in Chicago, across the street from Lake Michigan and Soldier Field. I have another school now, that will help me re-learn speaking, listening, reading and writing: The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC). Everything RIC offers, I do.

“Theater Experience,” is a class led by experienced professionals from the Institute for Therapy through the Arts, Evanston, IL.  Keith Whipple, Director of Drama and Dance, suggests, “maybe some music?”  Music is circling in my brain, so I compose with real sounding software on my computer.

Ann Oehring , assistant executive and  Senior Lecturer says, “Can you arrange this song, ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’?”  I say, “sure, I can do that.”  And then, another and another and another and I say to Ann, “Man, it is a job now!”

My voice is… Found.  My instrument is… Found.  My vocabulary is… Found.  The Articulation is… Found.  Semantics is… Found.  Syntax is… Found.  The Enunciation is… Found.  The Sequence is…  Found.  The Rhythm is… Found.

The lyrics to one of the songs that I wrote many years ago, goes like this:

“I sing with just piano,

Or sometimes there’s a band.

I have my own conductor,

Who directs them with his hands.

He starts the band to playin’,

And then I begin to sing.

How I wish that you could see me

Makin’ music in my dreams.


Top Stroke Rehabil 2010;17(6):458–462 © 2010 Thomas Land Publishers, Inc.

doi: 10.1310/tsr1706-458