By Liana Jacob
MEET THE inspiring musician and artist who is proving that she is still able to pursue her dreams by playing PIANO AND PAINTING with her MOUTH after a rare ILLNESS left her PARALYSED from the NECK DOWN.
University student, musician and painter, Grace Fisher (21) from California, USA, was celebrating her 17th birthday when she began to feel extreme pain in her neck and tingling in her arms. She was rushed to the hospital and within just 15 minutes, she lost the ability to walk.
A few weeks later she was diagnosed with a rare polio-like illness called acute flaccid myelitis. She had to have steroid treatments, plasmapheresis, intravenous immunoglobulin therapy and even chemotherapy.
Her diagnosis devastated her as she was told that she was paralysed from the neck down. Grace has always been passionate about composing and playing musical instruments including piano and guitar as well as painting. Due to being paralysed, she could no longer live out her hobbies.
While she was in rehab at Craig Hospital, she had a dream that she could still play the piano and paint using a mouth stick. This was enough for her to try it out with a music therapist at the hospital.
Since then she has been accepted into the University of California Santa Barbara where she is studying musical composition and has also set up a foundation that provides music and art therapy to other kids with physical and cognitive disabilities called the Grace Fisher Foundation.
She now wants to raise awareness of her story and be an inspiration to people with disabilities to show that it is possible to live out their dreams regardless of a disability.
“I was an avid pianist, cellist, and guitarist, and new music was what I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life,” Grace said.
“It was the date of my 17th birthday party; December 21, 2014. We decided to celebrate late because of all the craziness surrounding university applications.
“As friends began to show up at my house, I knew something was really wrong; I began to feel extreme pain in my neck and tingling in my arms, something strange and different than I had ever felt before.
“I was rushed to the emergency room; within about fifteen minutes I was unable to walk and within hours I was completely paralysed from the neck down. My initial reaction in the emergency room was that the doctors would figure out what was wrong with me and I could return to my birthday party.
“I was even taking Snapchat pictures while they were catheterising me, in complete disbelief of the reality I was facing.
“That night I was incubated and unable to breathe on my own. After several days I was diagnosed with acute flaccid myelitis, which is a rare polio like illness, and I am now paralysed from the neck down.
“After five weeks in ICU I was transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado, one of the leading hospitals for spinal cord injuries in the world. I was there for seven months before returning home to California.
“After my initial diagnosis I was treated with steroids, plasmapheresis, intravenous immunoglobulin therapy, and even chemotherapy; anything to get my immune system to stop reacting.
“I also had a trach, feeding tube and a catheter placed, however, I have since had my feeding tube taken out as I am able to eat food on my own.
“While in rehab I had a diaphragmatic pacing system in place and my diaphragm, so I am able to breathe off the ventilator during the day.”
Grace says that her passion in music and art has helped her come to terms with her condition and paralysis. While she has accepted that she may never walk again, she is grateful for being able to continue pursuing her dream of being a musician and artist.
“The toughest part was losing my ability to play music; I didn’t care if I could never walk again but it was really hard excepting that I probably would never be able to strum my guitar or play the piano again,” she said.
“My family and friends were very supportive throughout the whole process and I don’t think I would have this positive outlook if it weren’t for them.
“I discovered mouth painting while I was in rehab at Craig Hospital. I had the idea to play the piano with a mouth stick in a dream and just tried it with a music therapist at Craig Hospital.
“Music and art have helped me stay in the moment and not focus on all of my losses. I am still able to do the things that I love and create an enjoyable life for myself.
“I am in a good place now; I’m no longer feeling remorseful in what I have lost, and I’ve accepted the fact that I will most likely live the rest of my life in a wheelchair. However, I will never give up hope that I may walk again.
“I enjoy sharing my story on social media. I’ve met people from all around the world with similar conditions and I enjoy connecting with people. It has created an atmosphere of inspiration.
“The Make A Wish Foundation made it possible for me to create a foundation of my own; the Grace Fisher Foundation provides music and art therapy for other kids with physical and cognitive disabilities within my community.
“They have connected me with the Santa Barbara foundation which takes care of all of the financial aspects of running a foundation.
“I will attend UCSB in autumn and study music composition; I hope to continue to do work with my foundation and expose as many people to music and art as I can.
“It might look like the end of world right now, but I promise it gets better. Each day will expose new light; you’ll find your hope, your passion, and your place in this new life. Have kindness in your heart and the strength to carry on.”