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Music therapy helps Georgia girl with brain injury

March 9, 2016

ATLANTA - 7-year old Briana Lawson of Macon faces a long road back, after a devastating Christmas Day car accident killed her older sister and left Briana with a severe brain injury.

She spent two months at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, enduring six surgeries. There, therapists are using an unusual approach to help Lawson recover.

The second-grader loves the "Nae Nae" song. Her sister and mother say she’s danced to the popular pop song hundreds of times.

So Children's Healthcare of Atlanta music therapist Cori Synder is using that song, and old church hymns, to draw Lawson out, and reawaken her injured brain.

When Briana first began her neuro-rehabilitation, a mixture of physical, occupational, speech and music therapy, she was just emerging from a coma.

She had no vision, and could barely move. Her facial bones were broken. So were her hips, and one of legs. Her jaw was wired shut.

Snyder says Briana was, “Not seeing much, not responding to commands, not being aware of what was going on around her."

The rehabilitation team concentrated on getting Briana to open her eyes. Getting her to move, they thought, would come later.

But that’s when something remarkable happened. Almost immediately, Briana began to respond to the music.

"Those first 2 or 3 days, she would raise her hand in the "Nae Nae" song," says Snyder.

Unable to speak, Briana was trying to dance.

The therapists were stunned, but Briana’s sister and mom knew exactly what she was doing.

“They'd seen her do it a thousand times," says Snyder. "She has prior or past experiences with that song, with friends, with family, with positive emotions and chemicals in her brain."

Snyder says music is powerful. She says it’s like a spark that can jumpstart an injured brain because it stimulates almost every region of the brain. Music can tap into old memories and emotions, and ease anxiety and pain. At Children’s Healthcare, they work music into rehabilitation to encourage the young patients to move, and follow the rhythm.

It’s helping Briana find her voice again. During her session, she holds the microphone, singing, “Victory is mine!”

"Her first mouthing of words was with songs that she already knew,” says Snyder. “Because she had those patterns already in her brain. Ready to go on an automatic play button."

Briana Lawson has a long road ahead. But she's getting there, one day, and one song at a time.

Briana Lawson was discharged from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in late February. She’s now home in Macon and returns for outpatient therapy. Her mother is hoping to find a smaller wheelchair that will fit into the trunk of her car. Right now, Briana has to make the 90-mile ride with her wheelchair beside her in the backseat.



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