Allison, a retired music teacher and lifelong musician, was advised in 2011 that she had a “giant” brain aneurysm, after experiencing olfactory hallucinations. In a twelve hour operation the aneurysm was “clipped”. Following surgery Allison had severe cognitive and physical deficits. This is the story of Allison’s remarkable recovery.
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REVIEWSI highly recommend this book to allied health care professionals, doctors, nurses, students and all those who have endured loss and grief. It is a masterfully written narrative that gives readers both personal and professional accounts of surviving a challenging diagnosis. It will leave you inspired, motivated and moved.
Amy Clements-Cortes, PhD, MTA, MT-BC, FAMI
Managing Editor, Music and Medicine
This is an extraordinary book about an incredible real life medical journey with a miracle woman and a happy ending! A great read with lessons for us all in dealing with a major medical event touching our lives.
Vice Admiral Duncan Miller (Ret’d)
MSC, CMM, CD
Few books are able to reach the heart as well as the mind. Allison’s story tells us much about the science of the brain, and how much more can be done when damage comes than we ever realised. It also shows us the ever wondrous capacities of the human heart and spirit. This is a great story, and a great book.
Allison's Brain is a valuable, inspiring gift for anyone touched by brain injury. Allison and Robert have done an incredible job of sharing their journey, including rich perspectives, insights and experiences of their entire community. They have demonstrated the power and contributions of the patient, family, friends, healthcare workers and the greater community to deal with and recover from the challenges of brain injury. Everyone has a crucial role in advocating, educating, supporting, motivating and offering hope to the client and family. We all need to realize how scary, embarrassing and frustrating it is when recovery takes such a long time. Remaining optimistic was difficult for Allison unless people ‘made me believe I could recover’.
As a professional I have been reminded of the assets, strengths and resiliency of my clients and the importance of communicating and providing strategies for families even while they wait for services. As a speech-language pathologist I recognize the importance of the ability to communicate- and how hard families need to advocate for services across the globe, including Canada. It is important for everyone, including all healthcare workers to know how to communicate effectively with people who struggle to understand and express themselves.
Judy Meintzer, MSLP, R.SLP, S-LP (C) Chair,
Speech-Language and Audiology Canada
Allison’s Brain is a personal diary written by two people whose obvious love and commitment to each other shines through each page. Their perseverance and Allison’s unfailing positive attitude and sense of humour make this very long journey compelling reading. Allison’s Brain is also about the healing value of the arts: in Allison’s case music. This is a must read for anyone going through major surgery; it is a how to as well – how to connect with family and friends, how to share the experiences and create a support system of those who wish Allison well and grow in their own understanding of how valuable life is and the struggle to enjoy its every minute.
Victoria Henry, Director
Canada Council Art Bank
This is the story of a remarkable woman and her determination to recover from the damage as a result of an aneurism. It highlights the importance of ‘patient –centred care’ and team work between the individual, the medical professionals and others to find the best combination of treatments for that individual in acute care and throughout the rehabilitation process.
Doug Treloar B.M.R.,P.T.
President, Canadian Physiotherapy Association
A heart-warming story of pain and recovery, but most of all, of hope and belief. The concern shown to Allison by those who surround her with their love help carry her - and each other - through one long, painful year. Allison's powerful personality and wry wit shine through the pages of this journey, and Allison's Brain is a tour de force, testimony to how determination and optimism can overcome what at times appears to be the insurmountable.
Linda Holeman, Author
This is a story of tenacity and optimism, it explores the power of music in the rehabilitation process and highlights the critical role played by Allison’s family and friends in her recovery. The book ends with an epilogue written by Allison in May 2014 that provides a counterpoint to the main narrative, written by Allison’s husband Robert McMechan. The epilogue is essential reading as it sets in context what Allison was feeling as she struggled with the ebb and flow of the recovery process.
Gerald Oakham, Ph.D. Chair,
Department of Physics, Carleton University
Allison’s Brain is a tale and tribute to the human spirit, power of relationships and the use music and music therapy to foster recovery. While our advances in medicine provide hope and possibility for so many patients, the process of recovery continues to rely on our humanistic practices. Music therapy played pivotal role in Allison’s recovery and her story illustrates the power of music to heal. Allison’s music therapy sessions facilitated by a certified music therapist, allowed for the expertly guided use of music to foster her brain’s neuroplasticity and skill re-acquisition. Leveraging the innate power of music to heal through structure music therapy sessions was a transformative process for Allison. Allison’s Brain demonstrates how music and the brain were made for each other.
Annie Heiderscheit, Ph.D., MT-BC, LMFT, FAMI
President, World Federation of Music Therapy
In the 1500+ reviews that I have written since 2001—notably the live performances but occasionally films as well—I frequently know something of the artists involved or the background/previous works of the creators. In the case of this review, I found myself in the unique position of knowing Allison Woyiwada as a performer (through many, many conductor-soprano collaborations from the Gilbert and Sullivan canon), composer-publisher (the wonderfully inventive school musicals) and friend.
As time went on, I also made the acquaintance of husbands Rick, Bob and children Marya and Tyler. In recent years—after a long absence from Ottawa—Allison and I had been planning to work together and raise some much-needed funds for Ottawa’s Savoy Society. Sadly, institutional inertia (likely the cause of the money woes in the first place) and then Allison’s diagnosis, permanently shelved those musical possibilities. Going ahead without her was never in the cards.
Thanks to Bob’s legal background, sense of narrative flow and unwavering support for his life partner—fueled in turn by the army of friends and supporters that rallied around Allison as she courageously battled her life-threatening brain aneurysm—the world now has a most detailed, very personal chronicle of this truly incredible journey from early warning signs to life after rehab.
As valuable a record of the myriad events and situations that are unfolded with humour (tax lawyer and music jokes abound—comic relief most welcome during the rollercoaster ride of extra-dangerous surgery and just what Allison would become on the other side of the operation), hope and a chorus of voices, anyone finding themselves (or their loved ones) in a similar predicament ought to make Allison’s Brain required reading.
Not surprisingly—given Allison’s considerable talents—the value of music as both healing element and brain stimulant is readily apparent from the overture (“A Brief History of Allison”) to the extended coda (“From Where I Sit—May 2014” and the three appendices). The effects of acquired brain injury manifest themselves in many ways. In virtually every case, survivors report the feeling of rebirth. And as those precious lives begin again, it is for the rest of us to celebrate, reacquaint and marvel at the power of art and love.
S. James Wegg Managing Editor
JWR (James Wegg Review) www.jamesweggreview.org
This book is an extraordinary undertaking in many ways. While the medical condition of a “giant brain aneurysm” is explored from the personal perspectives of the patient and her husband, it also calls upon the reflections of family, friends and healthcare providers to allow the reader to understand the challenges faced by a host of characters.
Many of these reflections appear in the form of e-mails back and forth between the characters and … provide the reader the opportunity to track the chronology of the events from diagnosis through operative intervention and rehabilitation.
The reader is offered detailed accounts of the precise surgical procedures, anatomical descriptions of such conditions as speech pathology and the use of music therapy to encourage progressive improvement in language skills.
Knowing Allison as a music teacher of both my sons, and knowing many of the surgeons involved in her care, I am struck by the dedication and perseverance of all those around her that made Allison’s recovery even more dramatic and successful.
Jan Ahuja, MD, FRCPC