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Volunteer overcomes stroke, gives back to others as a piano player

Volunteer overcomes stroke, gives back to others as a piano player
The regular passers-by at Carle Cancer Institute Urbana are accustomed to occasionally seeing someone playing piano in the lobby of the facility as they check in for their appointments or treatments. The inspirational music performed by volunteers in the Creative Arts Music Program offers quiet and soothing help with the healing process.

One volunteer, Chuck Belanger, is overcoming his own set of challenges after two strokes and if visitors look closely they can see he plays in a special way – with just one hand.

“It took a while to get used to playing with one hand 100% of the time, he said. “This is one thing I knew I could still do and it was a matter of just doing it.”

His other hand is unusable due to a stroke in 2018. Growing up in the south Chicago suburbs, Chuck had a lot of piano playing practice with encouragement from his musical parents. He started playing at age 5 and stopped lessons at 13. Besides playing for visitors to Carle Cancer Institute, he plays piano and organ as well as bells in the bell choir at Paxton First Lutheran Church where his wife of 40 years, Tammy, also plays in the bell choir and sings.

An engineer with a long career in electrical construction, Chuck is fortunate in that he leaned toward being ambidextrous before the stroke five years ago. His first stroke occurred at age 52 and then came a more severe attack at age 57. “The medical staff were preparing me that he may not make it,” Tammy said. He was at Carle Foundation Hospital for 68 days and then did rehab. “It’s been quite intensive relearning everything,” she said.

“Probably the main reason he is doing so well is he is very determined. Once he started walking, they could not keep him down,” Tammy said.

Eric Toliver, director of Auxiliary and Volunteer Services at Carle Health, said, “It is truly inspiring to see volunteers like Chuck who want to share their time with Carle out of gratitude for the care they’ve received and to hopefully brighten someone’s day.”  He said, “We hear so many positive comments about our volunteers and can’t thank them enough for the hours they invest.”

The Belangers originally hoped to inspire stroke patients by visiting them but when they saw a news report recently about Carle volunteers playing live music for visitors they knew this would be an even better opportunity to give back. Chuck said his choice of music as a volunteer at Carle Cancer Institute are pop tunes from the 1970’s as they are probably easiest to play with one hand.

Tammy said, “He is a rhythmic kind of player. He likes to use his gifts and stay active in the community.”

“It’s a real pleasant way of doing my part,” he said. And when someone passes by and says they really like his piano playing, “That’s a bonus.”

Categories: Community

Tags: Arts, Carle Cancer Institute, , Creative, Giving, Music, Program, Volunteer