Renowned musician and University of Central Oklahoma professor of music Jim Klages was at the height of his career in the late 1980s. As the cornet soloist for “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, Klages was a member of the country’s most elite collection of musicians, and on Jan. 20, 1989, he was slated to perform at former President George H.W. Bush’s inauguration.
Klages woke up that winter morning to an unusual, unshakeable tingling in his left arm. The diagnosis: multiple sclerosis, the unpredictable, often disabling autoimmune disease that affects the brain and the spinal cord.
Klages’ illness, his love of music and journey toward recovery is the subject of Samuel Karp’s documentary, “Healed: Music, Medicine and Life with MS.” The film, a decade in the making, will broadcast at 9 tonight on OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide PBS station.
The documentary is the feature film directorial debut of Karp, who studied trumpet under Klages for three years as a teenager in Washington, D.C.
In 2005, Karp, who holds an master of fine arts in film from the University of Southern California, reconnected with Klages.
“After hearing his story, what he’d been doing, it seemed like it was made for film,” Karp said in a news release. “My hope is that the film shares a message of hope and determination. Jim was fortunate in that some of his symptoms were alleviated. He still deals with MS symptoms, and his life was scarred by it. But his optimism and determination to achieve goals in life have never diminished.”
After his diagnosis, Klages, who had been the first cornet soloist in the U.S. Marine Band in the 20th century, was medically retired from the Marines. He taught lessons and played gigs in D.C. while he embarked on what would become a multi-decade battle with MS.
Eager to both provide for his wife and young daughter and to return to teaching music full-time, Klages accepted a job at Colorado’s Fort Collins College, Durango, and a decade later, at UCO.
As the disease progressed, Klages’ symptoms took a toll. Falling to the ground daily, and unable to even button his shirts, playing cornet, or his first love, piano, became impossibilities.
His marriage suffered. His hopeful spirit waned.
In the summer of 2002, Klages met Dennis Doan, a chiropractor and a trumpet player in Oklahoma City who eventually became his student. Doan told his deteriorating teacher that he could help him.
“I thought, ‘No you can’t,’” Klages said in the release.
“I had researched MS, and I’d never heard of chiropractic having any affect at all on it. So I said, ‘Thank you, friend,’ and I ignored him for a year.”
The breaking point that pushed him to Doan came the following summer while Klages was mowing his lawn.
“It was 97 degrees. I’d cut the grass twice to get it short and smooth. I fell down, paralyzed in the heat. I couldn’t get up. I was calling for help in the backyard and no one could hear me, so I crawled in the house, took a cold shower, then got dressed and went to see Dennis Doan,” Klages said in the release.
Klages had been experiencing severe pain in his hands and feet caused by paresthesias, common in MS sufferers. The discomfort was excruciating to the point he had been relegated to Velcro-closure shoes — tying shoelaces, like buttoning a shirt, had become impossible.
“He [Doan] made a single adjustment to my back. After one visit, the pain in my feet went away on the spot. I didn’t tell him initially because I thought it was too good to be true.”
Klages began to see Doan weekly, and treatments slowly alleviated many of the symptoms of the MS. And while he is not cured by any means, Klages no longer takes prescription medications to manage the disease.
As Klages’ story is shared widely this summer and into next year on PBS stations throughout the country, he hopes that his story of hope will resonate with those who watch it.
“I want to encourage people facing things that seem impossible. We’re not abandoned in those times. I want to give hope — that was my thought from day one,” Klages said in the release.