Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Olney father gives medicine of music to hospital

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Photo courtesy of Brian Lewis
Jeff Silberberg of Olney performs at National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C., on a recent Sunday. He took his music to the atrium of the hospital after his daughter was treated there following a serious car crash.
Some say music is medicinal. Olney resident Jeff Silberberg is trying to prove that point, while at the same time giving a little something to the hospital staff that took good care of his daughter while she recovered from a major automobile crash.

The weekend of May 10 had been a special one for Jeff and Paula Silberberg and their daughters Julie and Michelle.

The family had celebrated Julie’s graduation from Virginia Tech.

Michelle, a 2007 Sherwood graduate, was completing her freshman year at Towson University and could not make the five-hour trip with the rest of her family because of end-of-semester finals, so she drove herself to Blacksburg, Va.

‘‘We were nervous, because it was a long drive, and because she is only 18,” Jeff Silberberg said. ‘‘But she made it with no problem.”

After the ceremony and a celebratory lunch, they loaded up Michelle’s car with some of the contents of Julie’s apartment, and sent Michelle on her way so she could get back to Towson to finish up the semester.

Paula Silberberg tried to call Michelle after a couple of hours to check on her, but she did not answer her cell phone.

‘‘A little while later, we got a call from a state trooper saying she had been in a serious accident, and had been flown to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville,” he said.

When they arrived at the hospital, they learned Michelle had broken her arm and shattered the C4 and C5 vertebrae in her neck, but they still were not prepared for what they were about to see.

‘‘I almost went into shock when I saw her, and the next few days were a living nightmare,” Jeff Silberberg said. ‘‘One day you have a healthy daughter and then everything changes. I just thanked God that she was alive. It was a miracle, and a good thing she had been wearing her seat belt.”

He learned that the single-car crash occurred on Interstate 81 when the Toyota Camry she was driving ran off the road and flipped down an embankment.

‘‘She may have been going too fast and she may have been too close to the car in front of her,” he said. ‘‘I know a lot of kids don’t survive these accidents, but I thanked God that mine did. I also knew that I would rather have her be a quadriplegic for the rest of her life than to have lost her completely.”

After surgery and a week at the UVA hospital, Michelle was transported to the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Washington, D.C.

In addition to working for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Jeff Silberberg is an accomplished musician.

He performed in Crosswinds, a wedding band, for 20 years and he plays several instruments, including guitar, keyboard and soprano saxophone.

When he became a member of the Songwriters Association of Washington, he learned the group provides musical performances for charitable organizations. So when he noticed things were quiet around the National Rehabilitation Hospital on weekends, he came up with an idea to change that.

He spoke with Joan Joyce, the hospital’s recreation therapist coordinator, about performing in the hospital’s three-story atrium.

His first performed there June 1, and has either performed himself or coordinated other musical acts to perform each Sunday since.

In the meantime, Michelle made great progress and is now able to walk, feed herself and write.

Immediately after the accident, she was unable to move her leg.

‘‘I didn’t worry about it not getting better,” she said. ‘‘In my mind, that was never an option.”

The leg did get better, but other things will take time.

‘‘My spinal cord was bruised where the nerves cross, so I have lost motor function on my right side and sensation on my left side,” she said. ‘‘I can’t lift my arms over my head, but I am working on it.”

Michelle said she has learned to take things one day at a time.

‘‘There is no way to tell if I will completely recover; the doctors say that we may see results for up to 18 months,” she said. ‘‘I am doing outpatient therapy three times a week, and my sister is helping me with exercises at home.”

Her family has given her hope, she said. ‘‘I knew I would end up OK.”

As for her father, his hope is that his music will continue to brighten the Sundays of the staff and patients at NRH.

Although Michelle has since been released from the hospital, Jeff Silberberg’s concerts are scheduled in the NRH atrium at least through the end of July.

‘‘People seem to love it,” Silberberg said. ‘‘I really enjoy playing for them, and so do the other musicians.”

And NRH officials are glad.

‘‘It’s a great program,” Joyce said. ‘‘Weekends are such down time around here, and the way the hospital is set up, patients and nursing staff can hear the music drifting up to all the floors. The musical performances have become quite popular and added life to our Sundays.”