Health & Medicine

Music therapy set burn survivor on path to ‘America’s Got Talent’ – and a special Sacramento show

Singer and burn survivor Kechi Okwuchi – a finalist last season on “America’s Got Talent” – arrived in Sacramento on a mission to use her voice and personal story to lift and encourage the patients, their families and the staff at Shriners Hospital for Children – Northern California.

“I’m in the position where I can very well be a literal example that you can still do things that you want to do,” Okwuchi by phone before her performance at the hospital Friday evening. “You don’t have to be restricted by your injuries or obstacles, even after what happened to you.”

Okwuchi, now 28, suffered burns over much of her body after a plane crash in her native Nigeria. She and 60 other classmates were flying home from their boarding school. There were 109 people on the plane. Okwuchi, then 15, was one of only two survivors. She and her family traveled to the Houston area about two years later, so she could have surgery and treatment at the Shriners Hospital in Galveston.

Okwuchi has had more than 70 surgeries, and she says music therapy was the only thing that kept her going.

“I would go into that room and play with the instruments with the music therapist, and I would sing while he played,” Okwuchi said. “It was a force in my life that played a huge part in my healing. I never would have thought it would have played such a huge role in my healing. But I didn’t know what was going to happen that would require that.”

Okwuchi, who’s pursuing her master’s in business administration at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, said she’s traveled around the world to perform and tell her story. None of this might have happened, she said, if one of her friends hadn’t signed up Okwuchi for an audition with “America’s Got Talent.”

Left to her own devices, Okwuchi said, she never would have pursued that, despite her love of music.

“I remember my heart pounding in my ears,” she said of the first audition. “I could barely hear anything anyone was saying....I think the weight of it all hit me all at once when I stepped out on the stage. It was a sink-or-swim kind of moment.”

Her visit was part of her goal to tell burn survivors to know that they, too, will go on to live such moments: “What they see now, the state that they are in now, the pain that they’re feeling and the injuries and treatments, are not forever, even though it feels like it in the moment. ... I have to help other burn survivors see that they can do whatever they want to do.”

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