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Spaulding Rehab Hospital Uses Music To Treat Brain Injuries

BOSTON (CBS) -- For months, WBZ has been bringing you stories of local people affected by the opioid crisis.

Dr. Mallika Marshall introduces us to a young man who suffered a near-fatal drug overdose and the new program at an area hospital using music therapy to help him heal.

"He was unconscious, not breathing, heart not beating for over 30 mins. It's a miracle that he's still here." Linda Foote recalls those tense days back in November 2014 when her son, Andrew, overdosed on opiates.

The 26-year old from North Andover was in a coma for two months. When he regained consciousness he could not walk or talk.

But thanks, in part, to neurologic music therapy, Andrew has made huge strides.

Brian Harris is a trained neurologic music therapist at Spaulding Rehab Hospital in Charlestown. He worked with Andrew during his inpatient recovery.

"Music aids our brains ability to heal itself, something called neuroplasticity," says Harris. "Music can actually help strengthen the connections we have in our brain and build new connections around where the damage might be."

Unlike some therapies, which focus on specific brain centers, music therapy hits them all.

"The centers that are responsible for movement, language, emotion and cognition are all activated when we passively listen to music and we know there is no other stimulus on earth that has such global activation as music," explains Harris.

Linda says it was therapy that Andrew actually enjoyed.

"It wasn't a struggle like getting up and walking physically or using his hands or using his arms," says Linda. "His voice just started coming out. It was wonderful to hear his voice again."

Just last month, Spaulding launched an outpatient neurologic music therapy program and Andrew now participates.

Therapists use music that patients enjoy but they have to have certain parameters. For example, Caitlin Hyatt plays popular songs for Andrew but they have a slower rhythm to try to improve his fluency of speech and his articulation.

"He likes rap music," says Hyatt. "Hopefully in the future he'll be rapping to an Eminem song."

Now 15 months after his brain injury, Andrew has regained much of what he lost.

"We walk," says Linda. "We talk. We interact. We sing. We laugh. We're living."

Music therapy can help with a variety of brain disorders like traumatic brain injury, stroke, Parkinson's and autism, and it's used for patients of all ages, including children.

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