We like to talk abstractly about the healing power of music, as if it contains some supernatural powers that science could never explain. Certainly, few other things can change your mood and improve your outlook on life than music, and without the downstream consequences of other alternatives. But can it really save a life?
On July 17, 1997, 46-year-old Debra Diehl was driving her pickup truck on Pyramid Highway north of Reno, Nevada, when the truck left the roadway and overturned, ejecting her 7-year-old daughter Tamra Diehl from the truck. Tamra suffered severe head injuries in the crash and was transported to Washoe Medical Center where she fell into a coma. The mother was initially charged with drunken driving, to which she pleaded not guilty in the original court proceedings.
Young Tamra Diehl lay in a coma in the hospital for three weeks with no signs of life, and doctors were worried that she might never recover. Profiles and news about Tamra have gripped the local community in Reno and beyond, with people concerned about Tamra, and theorizing that the mother may have caused the tragedy because she was under the influence.
It just so happened that Tamra’s favorite singer was Leanne Rimes, and her favorite song was “Blue,” which was released the year before. Written and originally recorded by songwriter and longtime DJ Bill Mack in 1958, when LeAnn Rimes recorded the song, it sounded like the second coming of Patsy Cline. Leanna’s “Blue” reawakened the appeal of classic country, and although it only peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Country Songs chart, it ended up winning both the CMA and ACM Song of the Year in 1996, as well as the Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. . And that’s not all he did.
While playing a show in Reno, 14-year-old LeAnn Rimes caught wind of what happened to Tamra Diehl, and that she was the young girl’s favorite singer, and that “Blue” was her favorite song. Rimes decided to visit her on August 6, 1997 — 25 years ago today. Kneeling next to Tamra’s hospital bed where she was still in a coma, LeAnn Rimes sang an a cappella version of “Blue,” and according to personal reports, the young girl shifted in her bed, her eyelids fluttering.
According to Tamra’s mother, these were the first signs of life that Tamra had given since the accident, and that was when the little girl began to come out of the coma. By August 20, Tamra was awake, alert and smiling. The young girl didn’t remember Leanne Rimes singing to her, but she was excited to hear about it after it happened.
“She gets a big smile on her face.” She’s smiling and everything,” her mother, Debra Deal, said at the time. “She started coming out of her coma the day Leanne Rimes got here.” We are very grateful to her.”
It could have been a coincidence, but it’s a coincidence that has happened many times with music, and those who have suffered a stroke or coma. A 7-year-old British girl had a similar experience in 2012 after Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” was played to her. Call it a miracle, but there is actually some science behind this phenomenon, and it’s similar to why sometimes those who stutter or lose the ability to speak can still sing.
The left side of the brain controls language, while the right side processes song and music. So even if one side is damaged or recovering, the other side can still function. Also, a stimulus such as one’s favorite song may have a greater impact than other stimuli for patients suffering from brain trauma.
“Whenever memories have an emotional context to them, they tend to hold much more power in the brain and tend to be processed differently,” says Cleveland Clinic Neurological Critical Care Director, Dr. Javier Provencio.
Maybe 7-year-old Tamra Diehl would eventually wake up on her own. Maybe it never would. But the story is about both the physical and spiritual power of music, and LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue” in particular.
Later that year, when Tamra Diehl had largely recovered, her mother Debra came clean, pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated and causing the accident.