Guitar champion credits WVU neurologists and BOTOX treatment

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When flat pick guitar champion Darel Meadows began experiencing debilitating pain in his hand, a West Virginia University neurologist’s suggestion of BOTOX injections was music to his ears.

Neurologist John Brick, M.D., was treating Meadows for a cyst on his spinal cord when Meadows told the doctor about his hand pain.  Dr. Brick conferred with fellow neurologist Cathrin Buetefisch, M.D., who diagnosed Meadows with task-specific dystonia, a movement disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions.  In Meadows’ case, the repetitive motion of gripping the flat pick led to the dystonia. 

Dr. Buetefisch’s treatment recommendation was to inject BOTOX into the muscles affecting Meadows’ ability to play.  The treatment seemed strange to the former logger from Walkersville, W.Va.  But for the diehard musician in him, the ability to play was all that mattered.

Photo by Bob Beverly

“I told her if it would help me play music, put it in there,” Meadows said.  “I had to do something.  Music is a big part of my life.”

Botox is most commonly thought of as a cosmetic injection to reduce fine lines and wrinkles.  However, there are many medical benefits to using BOTOX.  In addition to treating dystonia, the injection can help with certain spasms, migraines and excessive sweating problems.

“The doctor explained that my muscles were overactive,” Meadows said.  “She put a BOTOX shot in my arm and within two weeks I was able to play again.”

In fact, Meadows noticed such an improvement, he competed in a fiddlers’ contest in Uniongrove, N.C., and took home top honors.  The ability to compete was proof positive for Meadows the BOTOX injections were working. 

“Before the injections I couldn’t even hold a pick in my hand,” Meadows said.  “I had to create a whole new style because I couldn’t catch some of the cords I used to catch.  I knew where they were, but I couldn’t move to reach them.  My hand would tire out.” 

“Task-specific dystonia manifests in something like a writer’s cramp, or in Darel’s case, a musician’s cramp,” Buetefisch explained.  “It’s a jerking or cramping of the muscles used during a specific movement.”

Photo by Bob Beverly

Buetefisch asked Meadows to bring his guitar and play music at one of his doctor’s appointments.  This helped Buetefisch determine the muscles that were affected most and needed the treatment. 

“Dystonia can be very hard to diagnose, because so many patients can’t express the specific types of problems they experience,” Buetefisch said.  “Musicians make great patients because they’re so in tune with how their playing is affected.  With the onset of dystonia, changes in performance are oftentimes so subtle that many people can’t express the change. But musicians know when something is even slightly off and can specifically explain the problem.”

To say Meadows is “in tune” with his body while playing is an understatement.  He has played  through many health problems.

“My first big problem occurred within three years of when I started playing,” Meadows said.  “I had my first heart attack.  That slowed me down.  I was severely limited in my ability to work and play.”

But Meadows rebounded.  He entered a guitar competition at the state fiddler’s convention.

“A buddy of mine and I stood in line for two hours to get on stage,” Meadows said.  “I was already really tired because the first heart attack had worn me down.”

Meadows decided to play Maria Elaina, an old ballad.  He told his friend, “I’m going to play a slow tune.  It may not be a winning tune for here but I think it’s something the crowd will like.  It’s a tune my wife, Holly, hates to hear now because as I was playing it, I had a second heart attack on stage.”

Photo by Bob Beverly

Meadows kept playing through the pain.

“I figured it was going to be my last tune,” he said.  “I didn’t dare tell my buddy – he would have made me walk off of that stage.  So I held my arms by my sides as hard as I could and gripped myself up real tight to keep from hurting so much.  I finished the tune.”

While his health problems persist, Meadows has made enough of a recovery to enjoy time with his wife and their friends, playing at various bluegrass festivals across the state and country.

There is no cure for dystonia.  Meadows will continue to receive BOTOX injections as necessary to help control his muscle spasms.  But he does not mind.

“It isn’t really about the music at all,” Meadows said.  “It’s about the friends and the people I’ve met through music.  That’s the important thing – old and new friends sitting down to play music together.”


For more information:
Cassie Waugh, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
cw: 08-20-08

Return To News Releases