Everyday Health spoke with the country music artist and his wife about how he is managing a disease that severely affects his speech and how he finds hope through singing.
Randy Travis, a country music star, went to the emergency room in July 2013 because he had a cold. The 54-year-old had a full schedule, with tour plans and a part in a TV pilot that was about to air. But none of that happened. Travis was taken to Heart Hospital Baylor in Dallas for treatment of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart condition caused by a virus infection. When you have DCM, the heart valves get bigger and don’t pump blood well enough.
At one point, his heart stopped totally, and doctors rushed to put him on life support and put him into a forced coma, which can help protect the brain.
When Travis woke up from his sleep 48 hours later, doctors found that he had had a stroke that affected the whole center of his left brain. Doctors thought that he had gotten hurt because a blood clot had formed in his heart and moved to his brain.
During Travis’s second coma, when his lungs had failed and he was on life support, doctors told his then-fiancee Mary that he only had a 1% chance of living and that she should think about turning off life support.
Mary, who married Travis in 2015, says, “I went to his bedside and asked him if he wanted to keep fighting.” “He had a tear in his eye, so I knew he wasn’t ready to give up.”
Mary turned to the doctors and told them to help her keep him alive. They did it. Six years after his accident, Travis spends most of his time with Mary at their ranch and goes to a Bible study class once a week in a nearby town. Since the stroke has made it hard for him to talk, Mary stays with him most of the time to help him talk.
Travis is also determined to help other people get through hard times. He and Mary started the Randy Travis Foundation to help people who have suffered a stroke or heart disease. Travis’s book, Forever and Ever, Amen: A Memoir of Music, Faith, and Braving the Storms of Life, is about his battles and what he hopes for the future.
Even when things looked the worst. Travis wrote that he was determined to get better and get back to doing the things he loved.
“In my life, I had faced many storms and times when the odds were so bad that other people told me to give up. He wrote, “I hadn’t quit back then, and I wasn’t going to stop now.”
The Pathway to Rehabilitation:
Travis spent five and a half months in two hospitals, where he had three bouts of asthma, three tracheostomies, and two brain surgeries. Over time, the care for my health paid off. Travis was finally able to go home just before Thanksgiving in 2013.
For the next two and a half years, he spent four to five hours a day in therapy to learn how to walk again and regain control of the right side of his body.
During the initial stages of his rehabilitation, the individual encountered difficulties in comprehending information due to the effects of his stroke. Upon his initial return from the medical facility, he encountered a lack of comprehension of commonplace items, such a remote control, a television, and a toilet.
According to Mary, the individual in question first lacked comprehension about the nature and appropriate handling of the aforementioned entities. However, with time, he gradually developed full comprehension in this regard.
In addition to the aforementioned challenges, Randy also encountered visual impairments throughout the initial period of six to nine months subsequent to his discharge from the medical facility.
According to Mary, the individual experienced difficulties in maintaining attention and visual perception, but eventually regained their abilities to a flawless state. This phenomenon can be understood as a temporal assessment.
One of the primary challenges Randy has encountered is to the restoration of his speech capabilities. According to the National Aphasia Association, around 25 to 40 percent of those who have experienced a stroke are affected by a communication disability known as aphasia.
According to Mary, aphasia might be seen as a disruption in communication between the brain and the lips. In his literary work, Randy articulates the difficulties he encounters in relation to his medical condition.
In my particular circumstance, my cognitive faculties were operational, allowing me to comprehend the verbal communication conveyed by Mary. However, I had an inability to articulate a coherent and comprehensive response in the form of a phrase. Upon our initial arrival at home, my ability to communicate verbally was severely limited.
A period of three months was dedicated to speech therapy before I acquired the ability to articulate the phoneme ‘A.’ After a period of around eighteen months, I was able to articulate the words ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘bathroom.’ In addition to expressing affection using the phrase “I love you,” I possess limited proficiency in conveying other phrases. However, my linguistic repertoire is somewhat restricted beyond these expressions. The experience was very exasperating, inducing a sensation of confinement inside the confines of my physical being.
Mary characterizes the process as a consistent iteration, gradually reconstructing the components of language with the assistance of a speech therapist. According to her statement, the task was quite laborious, although Randy had a commendable level of determination.
Learning to Live Once Again:
However, after two and a half years of intensive rehabilitation, Randy began to feel frustrated by his lack of progress and would withdraw during sessions.
Mary states, “He had just completed that phase of his rehabilitation.” “At some point, I believe it becomes counterproductive, and you must seek out alternative learning opportunities.”
This meant engaging with people and living life for Randy. He began to engage in more mundane activities, such as interacting with his wife and acquaintances, providing for his dogs and horses, walking around his ranch, and attending concerts.
Mary says, “Every day, new words are coined, and I believe this is due to being exposed to reality.” “The sooner you can return to normal, the better, and I believe that’s as effective as any therapy.”
Having the support of his wife, family, and friends has uplifted and strengthened him. Mary encourages other caregivers to be compassionate, supportive, and never give up.
“Aphasia patients do not want to be treated as if they have a fatal illness. They wish to experience the same pleasures as before in life. Randy is the first one who wants to get dressed and go somewhere — go to dinner or go meet acquaintances. He makes my work a breeze.”
Music’s Healing Power:
Travis has liked country music since he was a boy, particularly the songs of more classic country performers such as Hank Williams, Lefty Frizell, and Gene Autry. He began playing guitar at the age of ten. He was in difficulties with drugs, alcohol, and the law as a youth, but his musical skill led him to a better life.
By the age of 26, he had signed with Warner Bros. Records and was quickly piling up No. 1 hits. His debut album sold over four million copies, and he followed it up with a streak of chart-topping records.
Given his love of singing and songwriting, it’s no wonder that music is an important part of his recovery.
Travis discovered he could recall the chords to his songs while undergoing rehabilitation at Select Rehabilitation Hospital in Denton, Texas, about 35 minutes away from his ranch.
Despite the fact that music was not an official component of their program, a lady called Tracy who worked in the rehabilitation center’s marketing department played a piano for Travis during her lunch break.
Tracy attempted to persuade Travis to sing along to “Amazing Grace,” one of his favorite songs.
“I wanted to sing, and I tried,” Travis writes in his biography, “but the lyrics and music would not come together in my mind.”
Tracy, on the other hand, refused to give up. They reached a breakthrough after months of practice and encouragement when Travis sang an entire song from memory.
“There are others who can hardly pronounce a word but can sing,” explains Carol Persad PhD, head of the University of Michigan Aphasia Program (UMAP) in Ann Arbor, who utilizes a music therapy technique called Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT) with some of her patients. “Music is one way to return to words because it engages a different part of the brain than speech.” That explains Travis’ ability to sing “Amazing Grace.”
“Music is in every fiber of Randy’s existence, so being back in and around music is tremendously therapeutic and uplifting for him,” Mary explains.
He startled the audience in Nashville in 2016 when he sang part of the words to “Amazing Grace.”
Randy is now on a mission to “spread hope” and demonstrate to people that there is life after stroke. He and his wife encourage survivors and their loved ones to be optimistic and to investigate the various choices that may aid a patient’s recovery.
Travis’ Randy Travis Foundation contributes to music and entertainment education for at-risk children because he believes so strongly in the power of music. In addition, the group spreads awareness about stroke and cardiovascular disorders.
“Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual, and people don’t come with an owner’s handbook,” Mary explains, “so just love each other to bits, be patient, and keep fighting the fight.”