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How a Houston medical center is harmonizing health and performing arts


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Amna Nawaz: It's an unusual partnership, a world-class hospital and world-class performing arts organizations, a model in the growing field that brings together health and the arts.

Jeffrey Brown reports from Houston for our ongoing series, Canvas.

Woman: We're just going to get a look at your throat and your vocal cords. Breathe in.

Jeffrey Brown: We're up close and personal with 25-year-old opera singer Emily Treigle and her vocal cords. This is her instrument, requiring constant care and attention.

Emily Treigle, Houston Grand Opera: It's not like I'm playing the Trumpet or piano, like, if something goes wrong, you can see it. You know, it's all in here. So, you need the professional to be able to go in and make sure that everything is going well.

Jeffrey Brown: In July, after multiple tonsil infections, Treigle, a mezzo-soprano, had a tonsillectomy. All went well, and, this day, she was getting a checkup ahead of the Houston Grand Opera's new season.

For someone in your position, what's the problem? I mean, what's the thing you have to deal with or worry about most with your voice?

Emily Treigle: The short answer is everything. The long answer is, it's incredibly challenging to be in a career that there are so many variables attached to it.

And so our task as singers is to have such a good, solid technical foundation that we can defy whatever odds are thrown at us and just continue to be able to produce a really beautiful sound. And when it's something that's outside of our control, our technical realm, that's when we end up back here and say, something is not working. Can we do a checkup and make sure that everything is where it's supposed to be?

Dr. Yin Yiu, Houston Methodist Hospital: We really encourage our singers as vocal athletes.

Jeffrey Brown: Working with Treigle, Dr. Yin Yiu, a laryngologist at the Texas Voice Center at the Houston Methodist Hospital. As she puts it, she's the T in the ENT.

She doesn't sing herself, though some of her colleagues do, but she loves the challenge of caring for singers.

Dr. Yin Yiu: We think about athletes, right, and they have like this whole team of people that take care of them. And we don't really think about performers.

So, singers, actors, people who do, like, use their voice in that capacity, we don't think about them in that same way. But they can also have injuries, right? So, they can be performing and have different things happening. The vocal cords can get swollen. They can have vocal cord hemorrhage or bleed whenever. They're singing. These are all things that can happen. And we get to be that team for them.

Jeffrey Brown: The Texas Voice Center is part of the hospital's highly unusual program, the Center for Performing Arts Medicine. Founded by Dr. Richard Stasney in 1992, it all began with a focus on singers, but then something unexpected happened.

Todd Frazier has led the center since 2012.

Todd Frazier, System Director, Center for Performing Arts Medicine: We started to get preachers, newscasters, classroom teachers, anyone that would associate their voice to what they do professionally.

And that's when the hospital realized that, yes, there really is something special and unique here, and that's unique to Houston as well.

Jeffrey Brown: The center then grew to support performing artists of all kinds from Houston'S thriving arts community, as well as from all over the country. Crucially, it also developed official relationships with several of Houston's leading performance art groups.

Todd Frazier: There are a lot of unique health issues that show up in the arts community that deserve a home and deserve a place to be cared for.

Jeffrey Brown: Are you surprised that this is a thing now between the hospital and arts organizations?

Todd Frazier: I'm not surprised that its successful, because I am from the arts community, and I really knew that the artists were yearning for a home and a sympathetic place that they would be understood.

But I am -- have to be surprised that a major hospital would sort of take this on in a way that's sort of unprecedented. They felt it fit with their values to be supporting the arts and culture within the community of Houston, which all the hospitals are in Houston. And the physicians really enjoyed being able to help these talented people making their lives and homes here in Houston.

Jeffrey Brown: One major partner, the Houston Ballet, which now has an on-site clinic, giving dancers like Kellen Hornbuckle daily access to athletic trainers and physical therapists.

Dr. Kevin Varner, Houston Methodist Hospital: The types of injuries that ballet dancers get are very unique. It's a very unique population. And while they are performing artists, they are incredible athletes.

Jeffrey Brown: Kevin Varner is the chairman of orthopedic surgery at Houston Methodist Orthopedic Sports Medicine.

Dr. Kevin Varner: It's interesting to look at and how things evolved over the last 15 or 20 years in terms of dancer health. And, remember, it's a big team approach, right? So, you really need a hospital that wants to be a partner, because you need not just orthopedic surgery.

You need nutrition. You need cardiology. You need primary care sports medicine, so people that take care of the dancer as a whole. And I think when you do that, it really does improve dancer health.

Jeffrey Brown: In this session, Hornbuckle received dry needling, cupping, massaging, and other treatments to alleviate pain in her legs and prevent serious injury.

The big idea, according to Houston Ballet executive director James Nelson, change from reactive to proactive care.

James Nelson, Executive Director, Houston Ballet: So, when I was dancing, we never had any on-site care. It was always, wait until you're broken, then go to the doctor, then get it fixed.

At the end of the day, it's a very short career. And so to be able to give an artist a year, two years, five years more of this precious time is such a gift. And I attribute a lot of that to this partnership with Methodist. You won't find this kind of relationship in most ballet companies.

Jeffrey Brown: Back at the hospital, Frazier sees this kind of focus on the performing arts only growing in the future.

Todd Frazier: Many universities are starting arts and health certificates, music therapy degrees.

And even medical schools are looking at internships in artists health or how artists might be cared for to develop those skills. And it is growing.

Jeffrey Brown: Meanwhile, singer Emily Treigle is ready to go.

Your throat looks great. I mean, I saw it.


Emily Treigle: Thank you. Who knew my tonsils were so big? I had no idea. But now that I don't have them, I certainly notice their absence.

I'm very excited about this coming season and seeing how things change now that I don't have this obstacle.

Jeffrey Brown: Treigle performs with the Houston Grand Opera later this month in Giuseppe Verdi's "Falstaff."

For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown in Houston, Texas.

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