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Redefining Rehabilitation

The Greek philosopher Plato wrote that music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind and flight to the imagination. For Daniel Stover, music means all of these things and more. When a severe hemorrhagic stroke left him unable to use his left hand, focused rehabilitation and a novel toggle-key saxophone allowed him to continue to express himself through music.

“We played the recorder in elementary school, and when I had the opportunity to choose an instrument in the sixth grade, I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll do clarinet.’ And I fell in love with it,” Stover says. “By the time I was in the eighth grade, it was all I wanted to do. Music is my artistic outlet. I can’t draw. I can’t act. I can’t sing. Playing an instrument allows me to express my passion for life.”

After mastering the clarinet and placing in the All-State Band in his junior year of high school, Stover moved on to the alto saxophone. In college at Sam Houston State University, he added flute to his music vocabulary to pursue his dream of becoming a woodwind doubler, playing multiple instruments in pit orchestras for musicals. After graduating with a degree in clarinet performance in 2004, he taught private clarinet and saxophone lessons in several North Houston school districts and also played in chamber music concerts.

Late on a summer evening in July 2008, a few days before his 28th birthday, Stover was watching TV in bed when he developed a severe headache and lost consciousness. His partner, Brian Schellberg, called 911. Stover was taken to a nearby suburban hospital, where a CT scan revealed a hemorrhagic stroke and neurosurgeons performed a craniotomy. The surgeons found tissue they suspected was abnormal and sent it to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for biopsy.

“It took a couple of weeks to get the biopsy results and the diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” Schellberg says. “Danny had two brain tumors that caused a bleed in a blood vessel, resulting in the stroke. They told us there was nothing that could be done and advised us to put his affairs in order. Then his mother found Dr. Adan Rios, who asked us to move Danny to the Texas Medical Center.” Dr. Rios, an associate professor in the division of Oncology at the John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, has clinical and research interests in lymphoma, leukemia and immune compromised-related malignancies.

Admitted to Park Plaza Hospital, Stover began rudimentary physical therapy exercises while undergoing chemotherapy under the direction of Dr. Rios. In mid-September 2008, he was admitted to TIRR Memorial Hermann under the care of fellowship-trained brain injury specialist Sunil Kothari, M.D., an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine.

“Dr. Kothari was amazing,” Stover says. “He would stop by and talk with me about my emotional state, which was not good. My physical impairment was also pretty bad. I couldn’t have asked for more personal attention. My nurses were like second mothers to me, and the therapists were wonderful. It was the most nurturing and caring attention I’ve ever received. I consider them all part of my family there.”

Because of the severity of his stroke, Stover was still unable to walk when he was discharged six weeks later, but after six rounds of chemotherapy, his lymphoma was in remission. A month later, he began outpatient therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation-Kirby Glen, which he continued for several months. He returned to occasional teaching in October 2009, with no functional use of his left hand.

“I was only able to toot around on the mouthpiece and neck of the instrument and had to demonstrate phrasing and style by singing,” he recalls. “Teaching the one beginning student I had was a challenge, but my other student was advanced enough not to need demonstration of the fingering.”

In early 2010, unable to play music, Stover sank into a deep depression. “I was desperate to be able to make music again and get back to teaching more regularly,” he says. “Then a former teacher introduced me via Facebook to a professor at the University of Nebraska who’d helped develop a toggle-key sax you can play with one hand. So I sent my sax off to have it converted to the toggle-key system. As soon as I sent it off, my depression went away. I felt like I finally had some hope.”

The one-handed saxophone was developed by Jeff Stelling of Stelling Brass & Winds in Kearney, Nebraska, and presented at the World Saxophone Congress XIII, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in July 2003, five years before Stover suffered his stroke. Stelling converted Stover’s Selmer Mark VII alto sax to the toggle-key system and presented it to him at a press conference in Nebraska in January 2012.

“During the two-year wait for my sax to be converted, I taught myself how to finger through the patterns,” Stover says. “When I got the instrument, it was just a matter of taking time to learn how much pressure is required for the keys. About six months later, I could play in a group again.”

Stover gave his first post-stroke recital in March 2014 at a church in The Woodlands. “It felt wonderful,” he says. “I was a little nervous going into it, but when I started playing I was right back to my old self again.”

Stover, who is now in his mid-30s, played for patients at TIRR Memorial Hermann in August 2015 while rehearsing for a performance with the Fort Bend Symphony, which he gave in October of the same year. In December, his saxophone quartet played Christmas songs in the hospital’s cafeteria.

Today, Stover gives private lessons and is working on a new recital program, a combination of solo saxophone and chamber music for violin, piano and saxophone. “I teach because I love music,” he says. “As Nietzsche put it, ‘Without music, life would be a mistake.’ I hope to help my students find the same love of music I have.”

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Leaders in Stroke Rehabilitation

The stroke rehabilitation program at TIRR Memorial Hermann and the Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Network provides customized treatment plans in both the inpatient and outpatient settings. These treatment plans are designed to maximize outcomes and get patients back to the life they love. Our interdisciplinary team works together to facilitate the best treatment for the patient, addressing occupational, physical, speech and neuropsychology therapies.

Our program also includes individual and group therapy as well as community outings to address the patient's functional abilities to reintegrate into their communities. TIRR Memorial Hermann and the Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Network also provides support groups, counseling and individualized training to prepare families and caregivers for taking on the additional responsibilities of caring for the patient upon discharge.

The TIRR Memorial Hermann Challenge Program is a comprehensive community re-integration program serving our stroke patients. The program assists individuals in returning to community activities such as work, school or volunteering, or to a higher level of independence.

To become or refer a patient, please call:

1 (800) 44-REHAB (73422)

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