Music helps heal theater performer after stroke

Michael Lackey is returning to the stage of the Croswell Opera House in Adrian, Mich. for the first time since a Christmas performance in 2014. After that show, something wasn't right. 

"I was feeling sort of punky and I was going to say to Betsy, 'I'm going to go to bed early,' and she looked at me and she asked me a question," he remembers. But he couldn't answer. 

Immediately his wife suspected he had suffered a stroke. She called 911 and Michael was rushed to the hospital and given clot-busting medication. 

"They were able to give him the clot-busting drug within 50 min, so within an hour he could start to move his right side. But, in terms of his speech, he was mute for two days and then his responses were, basically, one swear word and, 'No,'" she says, laughing. 

She can laugh now, but at the time, it was devastating to see this leading man with such a powerful voice struggle to speak.

As Michael started therapy to regain speech, he found comfort  at his theater home behind the scenes.

"He came back to work at about six weeks and the first thing he had to do was these illustrations for a show they were doing. He didn't have to speak; he just had to do the illustrations," Betsy says.

He was asked to build something for a show and when his boss came to check it out, '"He looked at it and said, 'It's perfect! It's backwards.' But they used it anyway!" Michael says.

Part of his therapy included singing, and, in fact, Michael could sing again before he could speak again. Music helped him heal, and after a year and a half he was ready to return to the stage.

With Betsy directing his first performance since his stroke, he played the title role in 'Phantom of the Opera', singing songs perfect for him that he's performed in national tours to Broadway.

"I always sang it and I wanted to sing it for them again and I finally did," he says of the hit song "Music of the Night." He's sung the words many times, but they've never meant more. 

"It was the hardest one I've ever done, but I'm happy to have gotten through it," he says, smiling.

Betsy and Michael have now become passionate about educating others about stroke. 

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. The American Heart Association says think FAST when it comes to strokes:

F - is the face dropping?
A - arm weakness?
S - speech difficulty?
T - means it's time to call 911.

If you're unsure about the symptoms - don't wait to call for help.