As a child, music was everything Marc Lucas, whose dearest dream was to one day become a “rock star”. But the crises that began to pervade Lucas’ life during his teenage years almost drowned out the music.
When a risky brain surgery brought Lucas back to life, he decided to use music to help children and adults with special needs find their own “voice.” Now he is sharing this story with the nation through “Givers of hopeÂ», A new educational documentary series.
Lucas suffers from cortical dysplasia, an epileptic disease that develops before birth.
âI was left without oxygen during the birthing process, so part of my brain practically died,â he said. âAs I got older I started to have worse and worse episodes because the electrical signals were not working properly. I was about 12 or 13 when I woke up without being able to breathe, and my body was locking up.
As the condition worsened, Lucas said he often had up to 20 seizures a day. âI would be behind a drums on stage and I would have a seizure. It was not a rare event, âhe said. “I thought of myself as a time bomb.”
Hoping to end the seizures, Lucas opted to undergo frontal lobe resection at the age of 19, risking never playing music again. Lucas said that while the outcome was uncertain, he knew the answer if he didn’t do anything.
The operation was successful, although it took over a year to fully recover, Lucas said.
âI lost a lot of motor and vocal skills, but I always liked music,â he said. âI slowly started to pick up the drumsticks and the guitar again. I found that the more I was behind an instrument, the more I developed my motor skills. What’s amazing about your brain is that it’s so plastic that it’s able to rewire itself in a number of ways.
Lucas said his goal was to play drums professionally and become a songwriter and music producer. He had started down this path by moving to California to write music for Bethel editions. This all changed after he successfully used music as a rehabilitation tool in his own life.
âI realized I was very good at connecting with people through music and breaking down musical concepts and making sense of them to people,â he said. âWhy not use this skill in a niche that is not served? Why not help people with special needs? “
Graduated from Jacksonville State University with a music degree, Lucas, who hasn’t had a seizure for almost 10 years, took that next step. In 2013, he opened the Music chamber in Leeds, a community on the outskirts of Birmingham, and established the Foundation of the music room. There he offers music therapy, classes and programs for children and adults with physical, mental and emotional disabilities.
Lucas and his team of instructors offer lessons in drums, guitar, ukulele, vocals and piano.
But his real passion, Lucas said, is delivering “neuro-inclusive” music programs, which he designed to meet the needs of people with neurological disorders, such as autism and Down syndrome, or those with cognitive or physical disabilities. Through these programs, Lucas uses music and rhythm to help develop coordination, as well as motor and communication skills.
“I go wherever people are, whether the Arc of Central Alabama, the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind or retirement homes, âhe said. âIt’s so much fun getting a group of people to play the drums or dance. They come to life. I always say I bring the party and they have fun.
April Evans said her son, Connor, 16, still looks forward to his weekly music therapy sessions. Connor, who has autism, has been jamming with Lucas during these sessions for the past six years.
âI watched Mark with these kids at events,â Evans said. âHe knows how to get across not only Connor, but all the kids. Mark is not intimidated by the needs of this child. He’s phenomenal.
Evans said Lucas was not only Connor’s therapist, but had become his “buddy”.
âConnor faces a lot of issues with his diagnosis that can be depressing, and Mark’s program really helps him fight some of those feelings,â she said. “Connor can walk in having a bad day and can’t go out without feeling happy and smiling.” Mark is like a fun older brother or uncle, but even cooler.
This month, Lucas is featured on âHope Givers,â an eight-part series on adolescent mental health and wellness airing on PBS Learning Media. Produced by the organization Hope Givers and distributed by Georgia Public Broadcasting, each episode highlights a person or group who has demonstrated resilience, while having a positive impact in the community. Lucas’ story is the fifth in the series.
“Mark is a healer,” said Tamlin Hall, executive director and executive producer of “Hope Givers” and host of the show. âHe has lived through epilepsy and lets these young people know that he has lived it and that he is fine. They just answer him. It’s more than a music session, it’s a hopeful session.
A unique series, “Hope Givers” is made available to colleges and high schools across the country through a partnership with the Georgia Ministry of Education.
The episodes come with lesson plans that educators can use in the classroom and introduce health and wellness topics, such as drug addiction, disability awareness, suicide prevention, human trafficking, challenges related to mental health issues, bullying and forgiveness.
Hall founded Hope Givers, an Atlanta-based nonprofit production company, to share meaningful stories that “uplift the human spirit.”
âTelling these stories of hope and resilience in difficult times empowers struggling young people and helps them learn to cope with the challenges they are going through,â said Hall. âHearing people open up and tell their stories becomes this wonderful initiative of paying forward for help and hope. “
Doug Marshall, President and CEO of the Presbyterian House for Children and former CFO of United capacity and the Alabama Family Trust, has been a mentor to Lucas, opening doors for him and introducing him to nonprofits statewide that support people with disabilities.
âI believe in Mark,â Marshall said. âHe is incredibly talented and has empathy, passion and a heart for people with disabilities, and the ability to use his skills to positively impact their lives. By sharing my network with him, I saw this as an opportunity to have a bigger impact on the lives of people with disabilities. “
Lucas said he was honored to have the opportunity to tell his story through “Hope Givers”.
âI feel so blessed and I feel like I’ve been given a second chance,â he said. âI feel a moral obligation to give back because it’s amazing how my life has been. If I didn’t give back, I feel like I would be wasting the opportunities that have been given to me. I want to do my best to use what I have learned and pass it on to others.
To watch the “Hope Givers” series, visit https://pbslearningmedia.org/collection/hope-givers/.