Local Radio Personality Ends Treatment on a High Note

WDCB host uses music to recover from serious illness

As a composer, pianist and host of “All Things Jazz” and “Swing Shift” on local radio station 90.9FM WDCB, it is an understatement to say Bruce Oscar is passionate about music. Following a series of serious health complications this summer, Oscar’s health team at Northwestern Medicine Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital tapped into that passion to help Oscar get his groove back.

After contracting Legionnaire’s disease, a severe type of pneumonia, Oscar developed a life-threatening reaction to the infection called sepsis. The sepsis triggered toxic-metabolic encephalopathy, a chemical imbalance in the brain. Three weeks in a hospital bed severely weakened Oscar’s muscles and impacted his coordination.

Oscar’s next stop was Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton. Due to his overall weakness, Oscar required use of lifting equipment or slide boards to transfer safely from a bed or wheelchair. His weakened core muscles even made it difficult to sit unsupported.

“We found out that Bruce was a radio personality and that he’d spent his life singing, playing piano and performing for people,” said Christina Hanson, an occupational therapist at Marianjoy. “We wanted to incorporate those skills into his treatment to help motivate him.”

When Oscar hesitated at first to play the piano in the Marianjoy chapel, Hanson realized she needed to scale back and start smaller. In a private therapy session, Hanson presented Oscar with a small electric keyboard and challenged him to sit up — away from the back of the chair — engage his core muscles, play and sing.

Oscar was so excited to be back in his element that he hardly noticed eclipsing the mere 10-minute goal Hanson had given him. Instead, he played and sang for 30 minutes straight. “It isn’t just therapy for my body; this is therapy for my soul,” Oscar said. It was therapy for other patients, too—a 92-year-old woman asked to join in, and Oscar sang a duet with her.

Marianjoy Physical Therapist Dawn Tapson and Marianjoy Occupational Therapist Brandon Lesch also included performance techniques in Oscar’s rehabilitation plan, using toe taps, knee extensions and other lower-body exercises that he would ordinarily use to keep a beat or operate pedals on a piano. Together, they worked on standing pivots so he could sit at an actual piano bench rather than his wheelchair. They also moved the electric keyboard into Oscar’s hospital room so he could use it during his time away from therapy, improving both his stamina and his morale.

As his confidence grew, Oscar decided he wanted to play a concert for other Marianjoy patients. “It was wonderful to see that some of our patients, although they have difficulty engaging in most activities, were able to sing and clap along with Bruce and his ensemble,” said Eric Larson, PhD, ABPP-CN, director of brain injury and psychology at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital.

Oscar ended his stay at Marianjoy on a high note, literally. Having made tremendous progress in rehabilitation, he went home a few days after his concert. It wasn’t his first concert, and thanks to his recovery, it won’t be his last — but it may be one of Bruce Oscar’s most memorable shows.