County Pulse: Friends sharing gift of music with Modesto brothers disabled by MS

kcarlson@modbee.comMay 2, 2014 

— Don and Terri Lawson of Modesto discovered something about the two disabled brothers whom they befriended earlier this year.

They love music.

The Lawsons share the gift of music during weekly visits to the home of Miguel and Juan Perez in northeast Modesto. The adult brothers have progressive multiple sclerosis and require 24-hour care.

Earlier this week, the guitar-playing Don Lawson strummed the chords of a classic rock tune as the brothers sang along and bobbed their heads to the beat.

Their mother, Terri Perez, said the catchy melodies give them joy and an escape from the pain of the disease. It also has the brothers talking about composing their own songs.

“Don showed me something on the iPad where it’s easy to make your own music,” Miguel said. “I used to write poetry, but I stopped when my dad passed away. He was everything to me.”

Miguel Perez, 41, used to supervise medical records for a Merced clinic before he was diagnosed with the nervous system disorder in 2000. His younger brother, Juan, had started attending Merced College when he came down with symptoms. Doctors confirmed it was MS a year after Miguel’s diagnosis.

Their father died in 2009, leaving Terri Perez to care for “the boys” in the Modesto home where they currently live.

Sandy Guerra and her husband, Ray, introduced themselves after the Perez family was featured in The Modesto Bee in December. Ray does therapeutic massage and leads the brothers in visualization exercises, anything that can help them cope with the disease.

Terri Lawson said Sandy urged her to start visiting the home after learning that Don Lawson plays guitar. Isaac Gonzalez, the brothers’ nephew, has joined in the songfests by playing the keyboard.

“Whenever I hear that someone has MS, I want to get to know them,” said Terri Lawson, who has a less severe form of the illness. “They have become close friends. My husband loves hanging out with them.”

Terri Perez said Juan enjoys contemporary music as well as the old Spanish songs that his father liked. Music may not heal their bodies, but it is refreshing their spirits.

“For an hour, we all sing along,” Terri Perez said. “The boys are distracted; they are not thinking about their illness. Their pain goes away and they are happy.”

While the disease has robbed them of the ability to play instruments, technology has made music more accessible. The Lawsons are raising funds to purchase iPads equipped with the GarageBand program, which will allow the brothers to use touch instruments to strum, play piano and drum. The hand-held tablets should enable them to play their own songs and share them.

With a voice-to-text program, Miguel can compose poetry by speaking the words and watching the lines of verse appear on the screen, Terri Lawson said.

The couple has started to raise $1,600 through an online fundraising service to purchase the iPads. They have raised about $1,000.

Terri Perez said that other folks have given assistance after learning about her sons’ needs. Local groups are working to obtain a special bed for the 30-year-old Juan. Her son is unable to swallow his food properly, which can lead to complications such as aspiration pneumonia – and a visit to the hospital. She said her son’s health plan declined to pay for the special bed but has paid for the more expensive hospital bills.

Those interested in donating for the iPads can go to www.gofundme.com/8cydoo. A Walk MS activity to raise funds for programs benefiting people with multiple sclerosis is set for Saturday morning (May 3) at Downey Park, on Brighton Avenue in Modesto. Registration begins at 8 a.m.; 2K and 5K walks begin at 9 a.m.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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