Music is Powerful Medicine
Jane Mason, an acclaimed pianist and composer, has filled the lives of people around the world with her music, performing in concert halls from Sydney, Australia to Venice, Italy and throughout the U.S. She is also an accomplished painter, having created more than 500 original works.
For a short while, the music stopped and the paintbrush lay dormant after Jane, 77, suffered her second stroke in April 2020.
The stroke occurred while Jane was relaxing in the yard after a productive afternoon of gardening. She phoned her daughter, Jill, to check in. Just minutes into the call, the telltale signs started, and Jane knew she was having another stroke.
Her daughter’s frantic cries went unanswered: “Mom! Mom! What’s happening? Are you OK?” Jane could not speak and could not move.
Jill called 911, staying on the phone with her mom while also guiding paramedics around Jane’s expansive, rural property near Palatka as they searched for her.
A helicopter arrived to fly Jane to the nearest hospital. But a developing thunderstorm altered their course and first responders redirected the chopper to UF Health Gainesville, heading toward clearer skies.
“That decision saved my wife’s life,” said Jane’s husband, Marty.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but UF Health Gainesville was the only place Jane needed to be.”
The hospital is home to the UF Health Comprehensive Stroke Center, which has been certified by The Joint Commission, the recognized leader in health care certification. This advanced level of certifications indicates that a hospital provides more extensive treatment options as well as essential therapies for recovering after a stroke.
By the time the helicopter arrived at UF Health, doctors and nurses were fully informed of Jane’s condition. Brian Hoh, a renowned neurosurgeon, and his stroke team were prepared to perform a life-saving thrombectomy, an innovative endovascular procedure used to remove blood clots from brain arteries.
Dr. Hoh said: “Seconds matter. From the moment a patient enters our emergency department, (s)he is on a well-orchestrated course to receive rapid and highly advanced treatment. Everyone in the ED is onboard. Nothing gets in our way. We must work fast to stop further damage to the brain. That can mean the difference between returning to a normal life and enjoying the things you love or being permanently disabled.”
Before Marty got to the hospital, Jane was out of the procedure and out of imminent danger.
But the stroke paralyzed Jane’s hands, which had so skillfully executed her music and art.
Jane transferred to UF Health Rehab Hospital for an intensive, personalized recovery plan, including physical, speech and swallowing therapy.
Today, six months after her stroke, the music has returned. Jane is back at the piano playing her favorite pieces — “He Touched Me” and “Amazing Grace.”
Each day brings improvement as Jane strives to match her pre-stroke performance. She has returned to near-normal in most aspects of her life.
Anna Khanna, medical director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at UF Health, said: “Patients who suffer this type of stroke, a large artery occlusion, frequently have significant and permanent damage. Often, they cannot use one entire side of their body. Jane’s recovery is quite remarkable.”
The secret may be found, at least in part, in music and art.
Dr. Khanna said, “Some patients — artist, educators and others — who have trained their brains in a certain way recover more quickly and gain back more abilities, as long as they receive rapid and effective medical treatment following the stroke.”
Jane may have developed a high level of brain function through art and music that helped her not only regain these talents but other abilities as well.
Jane and Marty thank the Comprehensive Stroke Team at UF Health for giving Jane her life back.
“Everyone responded incredibly skillfully and quickly. They cared. They knew what we needed but they also listened to us. We found friends and confidants in our long-term therapists and nurses.”
Marty said, “They kept me going.”
Jane’s hope is to once again play piano well enough to return to the concert hall and to paint again. Marty believes she will achieve it through sheer will and tenacity.