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A stroke at age 41 changed this NS musician’s life. Her music changed, too

A stroke at age 41 changed this NS musician’s life.  Her music changed, too

When Alana Yorke, a professional musician from Nova Scotia, woke up on the morning of Nov. 9, 2022, her left arm wouldn’t work.

“It reminded me of a marionette’s arm,” she said.

“It was just swinging around freely and I didn’t have any control over it. So, that was the first sign that something wasn’t right.”

She asked her husband, Ian Bent, to help with their two-year-old. Then a headache set in — so severe she called 811.

The operator told her to get to the ER.

“You know if you’re jumping the line in the emergency room today that it’s really serious,” Yorke said.

At the hospital, a CT scan revealed Yorke, 41, was having a stroke.

“I remember the doctor being by my side during a period of unbearable pain and him saying your brain was bleeding,” she said. “And I just asked him if he would hold my hand.”

AtlanticVoice26:10Alana’s Anthem

When Alana Yorke woke up one November morning, her left arm wouldn’t work. During the weeks in hospital that followed, the musician had to relearn how to walk, and also how to rethink the album he’d struggled with for years. A documentary by Carsten Knox.

‘I was just on fire’

The stroke affected Yorke’s left side, impeding her ability to walk and to use her left arm. That left arm is particularly important to Yorke and her livelihood.

Her 2015 debut album, Dream Magic, is filled with her signature piano pop. The record, and its lead single Anthem, brought her and Bent — her musical collaborator as well as life partner — considerable success.

They toured extensively, got radio play and earned advertising spots. Yorke said people reached out from all over the world, saying Anthem had been their soundtrack to life events from birthing a baby to losing a loved one.

In the years since DreamMagicshe and Bent worked on new music, but hit many roadblocks.

Yorke dealt with lingering PTSD symptoms from a near-death experience years before. In 2020, Yorke gave birth to their son, after which she had postpartum depression, and then the pandemic hit.

“I think when you really care about something so much, it’s the scariest thing. It’s just like … am I going to fail?” she said of her wanting confidence in her creativity.

A man and a woman standing in the lower third of the frame looking serious, against a backdrop of rocky outcrops and plants.
Bent and Yorke are shown in a photo from the promotional campaign for the Dream Magic album, released in 2015. (Cherakee Andresen)

While recovering from her stroke in the hospital in Halifax, she found something surprising — her mood changed entirely.

“I was just on fire, completely free of any depression, any PTSD, any weight. I was just a blank slate. There was nothing negative at all,” she said.

“I was on the phone with friends, who were saying, ‘You sound amazing, you sound like yourself for the first time in 10 or 15 years.’ I had superpowers of the mind, mind-blowing creativity.”

At first she said doctors were reluctant to recognize what she was going through. Later, they called it hypomania, not a manic state but a similar perspective, perhaps stroke-related.

“One of the more common things that happens to people after they’ve had a stroke, that people don’t tend to talk about enough, is that their mood can change,” said Dr. Gordon Gubitz, a neurologist at the Halifax Infirmary and a stroke expert.

People experiencing hypomania can have increased energy and racing thoughts, Gubitz said, although it depends on the person, with any number of possible outcomes.

“I’ve seen people with migraine headaches whose migraines went away after they had a stroke. I’ve seen people who never had migraines who now have migraines after their stroke. So people can experience changes in their mood. It’s just so variable. ”

A brain rewiring

While in this state of mind, Yorke was able to plan all the details for the release of her long-delayed new music, plan its album artwork and design, and understand better the music she’d made.

What she wasn’t sure of is whether she’d be able to play any of it.

After days in the stroke unit, she and Bent discovered an upright piano in a hospital lounge. Bent helped her walk over to it to try a few chords of Anthem.

“I played a bit of the song and then I stopped and I just started crying on the piano bench,” said Yorke.

“That was kind of miraculous to watch,” said Bent, adding his wife’s ability to play came back in a flash, like muscle memory. “The brains [was] rewiring almost in real time, like we were seeing her healing.”

As Yorke cried, she said a woman watching came over and held her, trying to comfort her.

“I just said I’m not crying because I’m sad, I’m crying because I’m happy. I’m a professional musician and this is my song and I just played it for the first time after having a stroke, ” said Yorke.

A file photo of a CT scan. When Yorke was first admitted to hospital, a CT scan revealed he had had a hemorrhagic stroke. (Shutterstock/SeanidStudio)

New music coming

Yorke is now back home in Mount Uniacke, and recovering slowly with the help of regular meetings with an occupational therapist. She finds she’s easily fatigued by day-to-day tasks, but through exercise and therapy she’s been able to regain control of the left side of her body.

An MRI revealed a cavernoma, a cluster of malformed blood vessels, causing her stroke. With this condition there is the possibility of more strokes in the future, but Yorke is determined to make her health a priority.

“Having another stroke is another possibility,” she said. “It’s a lot to take in.”

The clarity and creativity she felt while in the hospital have faded, but the feelings from the experience have stayed with her. So has a renewed confidence in her work.

“You listen to great recordings that are not perfect, and you start to accept it for what it is. And we do the best with what we have. And maybe that imperfection is just wonderful,” he said.

Her new album is now being mastered, so new music from Yorke should be out by the spring.