16 August 2020 14:36
BBC Radio 3 presenter Clemency Burton-Hill reveals brain haemorrhage left her in coma for 17 days The Radio 3 presenter, who fronts the award-winning Classical Fix programme, was forced to undergo emergency surgery after she collapsed in New York in January BBC presenter Clemency Burton-Hill has spoken about how music has helped her recover from a major brain haemorrhage she suffered earlier this year aged just 39 years old. The Radio 3 presenter, who fronts the award-winning Classical Fix programme, was forced to undergo emergency surgery after she collapsed in New York in January. While the world was in lockdown, Burton-Hill was fighting to regain her independence. Without music, she says, the struggle to learn to walk and speak again would have been even more difficult. The i newsletter cut through the noise Email address is invalid Email address is invalid Thank you for subscribing!
Sorry, there was a problem with your subscription. "Sometimes it is the thing that gives me solace," she told friend and BBC journalist Sophie Elmhirst. "And sometimes it's the thing that helps me to get up, and fight, and to live." The haemorrhage was caused by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), an uncommon condition which occurs an abnormal cluster of blood vessels meshes with the arteries and veins in the brain. Following the surgery, she was unconscious for 17 days. Medical staff at the time could not predict how her brain function would recover – or if it would at all. During that time, friends and family compiled a playlist for her, played via a speaker next to her hospital bed. 'We both cried a lot' Andrew Staples, a British opera singer and close friend of Burton-Hill, recalls visiting her and noticing that her left foot was tapping along to the sounds of Brahms. "I remember it struck me as a non-typical piece to inspire toe-tapping," Staples told the BBC. A week or so later, another breakthrough happened when she was being played Richard Strauss's Morgen. "With her good hand she grabbed my wrist as I leaned over her shaven head, and I sang the words to her," Staples said. "We both cried a lot. I wasn't worried from then on about whether she was 'in there' anymore." 'Music is the opposite of despair' Looking back on that moment now, Burton-Hill does not remember it, but does recall making the decision to strive for life. "It was literally: I can do this, I'm going to get through this. Music is the opposite of despair. It was going to be worth the fight." Another musical visit from violinist Nicola Benedetti would form part of Burton-Hill's recovery. Herself a violin soloist, the pair played Bach together. Incredibly, despite the brain injury, she remembered all the notes. "It's a clichéd idea that music is beyond language," Burton-Hill remembers, "but from what I've experienced in my own brain, I truly know that now." "I really believe music is a part of my recovery because it uses both sides of the brain," she added. "It's as though it trains your brain to be ambidextrous."