Music Helps to Heal Hit-and-Run Patient

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Gabe Kennedy, his mother Solea and musician Jodi McLaren share a musical bond and hope for Gabe’s future.

The tune was familiar, but the words were definitely different. In the halls of Renown Regional in June, you could hear the strains of Neil Young’s classic rock tune “Heart of Gold,” being played and sung by musician Jodi McLaren. It was a concert for one — Gabe Kennedy, the patient who penned the poignant, personal new lyrics.

“I want to walk; I want to talk,” Jodi crooned on his behalf. “I’ve been an amputee waiting for legs.”

Gabe Kennedy strums while Jodi McLaren forms chords while they play music together at Renown Regional Medical Center. Gabe was severely injured after a hit-and-run accident, and Jodi wanted to help him play the guitar again during a visit to him during his stay at the hospital this spring.
Gabe Kennedy strums while Jodi McLaren forms chords while they play music together at Renown Regional Medical Center. Gabe was severely injured after a hit-and-run accident, and Jodi wanted to help him play the guitar again during a visit to him during his stay at the hospital this spring.

Gabe is no newcomer to songwriting. He’s always been musically inclined and has written his fair share of music in the past. The opportunity to experience music again while in the hospital was a meaningful one, and he acknowledges that Jodi made it possible. “It was nice to have Jodi there to ease me into that again,” says Gabe from his home in Whidbey Island, Wash. “She was very nice and talented as well, and it made things easier.”

Gabe’s life changed forever on May 8, when he was struck by an SUV while crossing a street in Reno. He suffered extensive injuries: His legs were fractured, there were back and rib injuries, his arms lost range of motion, he suffered a brain hemorrhage, and his left lung collapsed. Eventually doctors were forced to amputate his right leg.

Gabe was in a coma for the first part of his hospitalization, and his mother Solea joined other family members at his side in Reno. About six weeks in, he was able to receive the guest bearing an acoustic guitar — Jodi McLaren. While visiting friends in Reno, the indie/folk musician from Portland, Ore., volunteered to play guitar and sing for patients at Renown Regional.

Jodi, who is training as a music therapist, took her bedside performance a step further during her second hospital visit with Gabe — she re-tuned the guitar so he could actually strum it. As they played together, Jodi watched as a big smile stretched across Gabe’s face. The positive wave of emotion was palpable — Jodi could see happiness on the faces of each family member present, even in the midst of their grief.

“One thing that I really loved about Gabe and Solea was that they had such a sweet sense of humor and so much love for one another,” Jodi relates. “That really came across even though they were going through this extremely challenging life shift.”

Solea recalls that first session with Jodi. “She performed one song for us, and it was a really sweet song with a simple message. It made both Gabe and me emotional. Something came to the surface for us, which is what music does. Music helps that process of healing.”

The healing continues for Gabe as he recovers at home. In the beginning he could not sit up, but is now moving around with a prosthetic leg. He is gaining more range of motion in his arms, making progress in speech therapy, and his memory and ability to retain new information continue to improve.

Solea and Gabe agree that the trauma surgeons and medical employees of Renown saved his life with the immediate care they provided him. Solea adds that she truly believes Gabe‘s life will be better than ever.

“It’s really easy to look at the limitations, but I think that he’s progressing so rapidly compared to what was thought medically [possible] that I have a lot of hope he’ll be able to function at a normal level despite this tragedy,” Solea says.

It’s an optimism shared by Gabe, who definitely wants to strum and sing again at full strength. “It’s a slow process, but I feel like I’ve advanced a lot. I’m starting to feel good.”

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