The guitarist's new CD, The Music of Jason Crigler, deserves attention because of the variety of style and performance, and the natural fit you often hear between singer and song. But the story behind this recording, which was nine years in the making, goes beyond music.
Guitarist Jason Crigler is missing a year and a half of his life. Between the time when he recorded several tracks for his new CD, The Music of Jason Crigler, and the time when it was finally produced, he experienced a life-changing calamity, documented in the film Life. Support. Music.
It began when he was performing in a New York City club in 2004.
"I was on stage, and I had all this crazy stuff happening in my head, and I ran off stage," Crigler says. "Monica, my wife, was there and got an ambulance. That was it. For a year and a half, I don't remember anything."
Crigler had a brain hemorrhage caused by an Arteriovenous Malformation, or AVM — an abnormal collection of blood vessels in his brain. Only six months after his release from the hospital, Crigler, who had temporarily lost his ability to speak and walk, began to reteach himself how to play the guitar.
"I knew what to do; I just couldn't physically do it," he says. "It was painful, because my hands were so tensed up, like claws almost. I'm still working to get that open all the way. But I knew mentally what to do, and I could hear what to do. Physically doing it was the issue."
"The Books on the Shelf" is the only song on the album that deals specifically with Crigler's recovery. It was also the first song he wrote after leaving the hospital, as well as the only song he sings himself.
"Aside from physically relearning all the things I had to relearn," Crigler says, "there was the emotional baggage of, 'Can I do what I used to do? Can I play guitar? Can I write songs?' There's a lot of insecurity and emotional stuff, and this is the song that really helped me break through a lot of that and make me realize I can still do this."
HIS CIRCLE OF LIFE
Larry Thatcher says support from his friends and family helped him through ordeal of brain surgery
Friendship and passion are things Larry Thatcher knows well. You could say he's passionate about friendship. Once you're included in his ever-widening circle of friends, you're in for the long haul.
Thatcher has been on the giving end often in his circle of friends. But in 2008, his friends and family returned all those favors - and he's alive because of that. It's a story that started in the River Bend, extended to St. Louis and ultimately ended up in Phoenix, Ariz., where he underwent life-saving brain surgery.
Thatcher is the manager of the East Alton Ice Arena. He's also the River Bend's Mr. Hockey, an unofficial title Thatcher accepts with reluctance, only because he shuns attention. Over the years, Thatcher has worn many hats on and off the ice - player, coach, manager, promoter, booster. And in each case, he has been passionate about his duties. But when he was diagnosed in June with a rare vascular disorder that threatened his life, he added patient to his resume - make that impatient patient.
"When they told me I had arteriovenous malformation, I had no idea what it was," Thatcher said. "But we found out."
Indeed. He and his wife Paula went about researching the congenital disorder. What they found out was that AVM patients have an abnormal collection of blood vessels. Normally, oxygenated blood is pumped by the heart through arteries to the brain, where it enters a fine network of tiny capillaries. It is in these capillary beds where the blood nourishes the tissues. The "used" blood passes back to the heart through branching thin walled tubes called veins. AVMs lack the tiny capillaries.
In laymen's terms, the stroke-like symptoms that Thatcher had experienced from time to time were episodes involving his AVMs.
"I had two - one inside my skull and one outside my skull," Thatcher said. "The pounding got so bad, I couldn't sleep."
At Barnes-Jewish Medical Center in St. Louis, the recommended treatment was radiation over a period of four to five years. But it was only a treatment, not a cure.
"Paula wouldn't let up," Thatcher said. "She did research on AVMs every day and the name of Dr. (Robert) Spetzler in Phoenix kept coming up."
Spetzler has become one of the leading experts on AVM treatment and surgery. In fact, the scale used to measure AVMs is named for him.
After going back and forth on the idea of the radiation, the Thatchers decided to contact Dr. Spetzler.
Thatcher said, "My wife finally asked, ‘Why aren't we talking to Dr. Spetzler?' She was right."
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A heart attack a year ago actually may have helped saved Thatcher's life. As part of his recovery, he took part in cardiac rehabilitation, which included diet changes and exercise.
As it turned out, cardiac rehab served two purposes. "I lost weight and was feeling pretty good," Thatcher said. "But after I exercised, I started having really bad headaches and sometimes stroke-like symptoms," he said.
It was after he took part in a 5-kilometer "Race for the Cure" in June that he had his worst episode to date, including numbness in the right side of his body. A week later, following a workout, he suffered a more severe episode.
Thatcher ultimately ended up at Barnes-Jewish and the saga began taking shape.
"Larry is kind of an impatient guy sometimes," Paula Thatcher said. "Last year, when he gave up coaching SIU's hockey team, he felt so bad. Something just wasn't right.
"I found an AVM Web site that had a lot of stories on it. Some were tragic and did not have happy endings."
It was through one of those Web sites that the Thatchers made contact with three women who recommended they contact Spetzler.
"That was so important," Larry Thatcher said. "If Paula hadn't been so persistent researching AVMs, I might not be here today."
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Thatcher has two families - his wife and three sons, Zach, Chris and J.P. and his hockey family. The two often overlap. And in his time of need, both families rallied to his support.
"I can't say enough about how much they all mean to me," Thatcher said. "I honestly think that all the good wishes and prayers were so important."
Along with helping to make the SIUE hockey team one of the top clubs in the Midwest, Thatcher also was one of the founding fathers of the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association, which sponsors high school hockey teams in the Metro-East. He coached Roxana to league crowns in the past and had taken over as coach of the Bethalto Eagles team prior to this season.
Paula Thatcher feels that once her husband has completed recovery, he'll be back behind the bench.
"I know he will get back to coaching," she said. "It's so much a part of his life."
While his surgery and recovery have put a slight crimp in his coaching time, Thatcher said he's confident the Bethalto team will do well under interim coaches Corey Nugent, Jimmie Rodgers and Pat Sears. "They're a great group of players," Thatcher said of the team. "And I'm very proud of them and the coaches - all Bethalto alums. This team has the makings of a championship team."
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He didn't realize it then, but when he made the decision to contact Dr. Spetzler in Arizona about his AVM, Thatcher started down the road to recovery.
"We faxed the medical records to Arizona on a Monday, but didn't hear back," Thatcher said. "Finally, that Friday I called them and they had been trying to reach us - they had the wrong phone number for us.
"They basically said I needed to get to Phoenix and have the surgery as soon as possible."
The next week, on Oct. 15, Thatcher underwent seven hours of brain surgery - successfully.
"Two of our sons (Zach the eldest and Chris, the middle son) live in Flagstaff, so they were able to be with us," Paula Thatcher said. "Zach's wife Kathy and Chris's wife Katie were there and our son J.P. also went out with us, along with his girlfriend, Emily. They were all with us."
Along with the thoughts and prayers of his hockey family back home.
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Thatcher's recovery is progressing well, he said.
"The incision on the top of my head still is healing," he said. "But I feel so much better.
"When I woke up after surgery, I made a commitment to let people know about what a great support group is out there for people with AVM," he said. "It's amazing - there are a lot of stories, and not all of them are happy ones."
Larry and Paula spent part of the holidays in Atlanta visiting relatives - and enjoying life.
"I love him so much, I don't know what I would do without him."
Neither do we.from...
Well Happy New Year!
You'll have to excuse me, I have had a bit of a cold.
I feel much better today.
The take over of the store has gone thou... I still have a job.... horaaa! (I want to say it is part time... and I don't get paid if I don't sell anything... but it is a job)
Last night was kinda boring... I did not have a drink. And I was in bed by 10:00
Ah well... I was up at 12:00 because of some fireworks. It was kinda' nice.
I donoe but it gave me a sense of accomplishment. It made me feel like this year I may get my right arm back....
okay I am gonna go...