Music Helps Flutist Recover From Traumatic Brain Injury

Nov 16, 2017

Mira Spenner at WMUK
Credit Rebecca Thiele/WMUK

A lot has happened for Michigan flutist Mira Spenner in the past few years. She moved to Missouri, got married. She also faced the biggest challenge of her life. Last year, Spenner got into a traumatic car accident and suffered a brain injury. She says wanting to play the flute again helped her to make a miraculous recovery.

Spenner will give a talk Friday, November 17th at 11 a.m. at Kalamazoo College’s Stetson Chapel. It’s called “Recovering from the Unexpected: Using Music to Recover from a Traumatic Brain Injury.”

Spenner now lives in Waynesville, Missouri—a rural town near the U.S. Army base Fort Leonard Wood. Her husband joined the army as a trumpet player after he graduated from Western Michigan University.

“The joys of living in the middle of nowhere is that you have to drive about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, to actually get to a somewhat city and that’s where I could find work," said Spenner.

"I was leaving one day and I turned a corner too quickly and I ran into a tree and it knocked the passenger-side door and that hit my right side and I fell forward.”

Among other things, Spenner had a traumatic brain injury—or TBI for short, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a lacerated spleen. Even before she could speak again, she says music helped her to heal.

“One of the biggest things that my husband did was he got a Bluetooth speaker and would just play random pieces of music," Spenner said. "But I would randomly finger along.”

Spenner says she was determined to play the flute again—and that helped to speed her recovery.

“I have never been more motivated to play in my life and to get back to the world I know," she said.

Spenner has been playing music since she was four years old. So she says it makes sense that music would be such a helpful part of her therapy.

“My music therapist has been using me really to just randomly drum things with fingers just to help get that feeling back,” Spenner said. 

Spenner says her therapist also had her play a different instrument to help improve movement in her wrist.

“About a month ago, she had me play little things on the xylophone," she said. "And then make other parts for her and my husband actually joined in as well. So I had to, on the spot, force things to work.”

Spenner’s recovery isn’t done though. She says her breathing still isn’t as strong since her lung collapsed and she doesn’t have all the feeling back in her fingers. Spenner says she was very excited when her doctor told her that she will likely be able to go to school for her doctorate in two years. 

“So I can actually be a professor—I’m so excited about that prospect—but be able to teach and motivate students. And hopefully be able to motivate based on, ‘I want you to improve on this,’ not based on ‘So, I recovered from a TBI.’ It’s the little things, clearly," said Spenner.

Flutist Mira Spenner will share her experience in a talk Friday, November 17th at 11 a.m. at Kalamazoo College’s Stetson Chapel.