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Occupational Therapy Patient Picks up Guitar and Finds New Therapy
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Patient Picks up Guitar and Finds New Therapy

To be able to play the blues, you first have to understand the blues. It's the mantra of every blues artist – finding creative inspiration through pain and perseverance. For 17-year-old C.J. Walker, a dramatic shoulder injury and years of therapy taught him plenty about both. 

Tough From the Start

C.J. sustained an injury called shoulder dystocia during birth. As he was arriving, C.J.'s shoulder got stuck on his mother's pelvis. When the delivery doctor pulled him through the birth canal, the force tore every major nerve in his tiny left shoulder. Although necessary for the safety of C.J. and his mother, the traumatic delivery caused severe damage to his arm. 

The Long Road Through Treatment

C.J. was just 1 week old when his parents brought him to Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics. Andrea Melanson and Connie Chesser were the occupational therapists who oversaw his care. C.J. made visits to the hospital twice a week to spend time in the therapy pool, practice using scissors, pull apart Legos, and other therapeutic exercises disguised as everyday child's play. Despite clinical efforts, progress was slow and painstaking. 

"We classified C.J. as a severe injury," Melanson said. " Early on, we tried to rehabilitate his arm, but we realized much of the damage would be permanent." 

Defying Convention

C.J. underwent five surgeries during the next several years to graft nerves, transfer muscles, and rearrange the bone structure of his arm. Therapy remained regular as he approached his teenage years. And though he would never regain full function of his arm, that didn't keep him idle. He was eventually able to play sports, handle routine tasks, and even drive a car.

"We didn't want him to be limited in anyway," Clint, C.J.'s father, said. "When he wanted to try something, he just found a way. He never wanted help; he wanted to figure things out on his own."

That determination fed directly into C.J.'s passion for playing guitar – and specifically, playing the blues. 

Six-String Therapy

During the summer of his freshman year at Center High School, C.J. decided to try something new. He wanted take his longstanding desire to play the guitar and make it a reality. But with one fully functional hand, he would have to get creative.

He figured out how to play by first turning the guitar upside down. A part of the guitar called a whammy bar assisted his left hand with the strumming motion. Within just two years, C.J. began to find his own voice as a player. His confidence and ability quickly elevated. Now, he takes part in regular open jam sessions at Danny's Big Easy, located in the heart of the 18th and Vine blues and jazz district. 

For C.J., support and determination have led to an outlet he can truly call his own.

"It's my voice without me speaking," C.J. said. "I don't care much about playing sports anymore. Now my guitar is with me everywhere I go."

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