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Benefit concert in Beaver Creek

Connie Steiert
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyMylissa Eckdahl with her daughters Erin and Rachel. Eckdahl was paralyzed in an automobile accident in January of 2001.
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BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” When four-time Grammy-nominated pianist and composer Peter Kater got a call to put on a special concert for a woman in need, he didn’t hesitate. He responded immediately with overwhelming generosity for an Eagle woman he had never met.

That woman is Mylissa Eckdahl, paralyzed in an automobile accident in January, 2001. The injury she suffered requires continued medical attention. The very art of continued survival, and the effort to enjoy quality of life, can be a struggle for a quadriplegic.

On Wednesday at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek, Kater will present a special concert filled with the music which has endeared him to listeners around the world. The proceeds, to be handled by the Vail Valley Charitable Fund, will go toward covering ongoing out-of-pocket medical and therapy expenses, and to purchase vital equipment for Eckdahl.

Kater’s jazz and New Age songs are known for their heart and spirit. His albums regularly top the charts. He has composed scores for movies, TV and Broadway and performed for presidents and celebrities.

Mylissa Eckdahl is a beautiful, strong woman who has accepted what has happened to her with grace, dignity and bravery.

“Life with a disability is a challenge,” she says. “But I feel better equipped to handle the challenge with the love and support given to me daily.” A life-long educator, she approaches her disability as a learning experience for herself and for others.

There are moments when she wonders about the fate she’s been dealt. Her daughters were six and eight when the tables were turned and they had to start helping to care for their mother.

Then there is the pain and the day-to-day struggle just to cope with life’s most mundane tasks.

Eckdahl is about to undergo her fourth neck surgery. “I live with a great deal of pain,” she says. The surgery will strive to relieve the pain and body spasms. More importantly, it will help her continue to live.

Paralyzed from the shoulders down, Eckdahl is not able to draw deep breaths through her chest or abdomen. She must use 95 percent of her neck muscles to breathe. Her neck must remain strong so she can breathe most efficiently.

A large portion of her upcoming neck surgery cost will be paid by insurance, Eckdahl says, but ongoing physical therapy, which is needed to manage the pain and keep her entire body as strong as possible, won’t be covered.

Eckdahl says her health has been good overall during most the past seven years. She’s been hospitalized twice in the past two years with serious pneumonia.

“I’m trying to be more careful,” she says. “I work daily at keeping my spirits up and daily at keeping my brain sharp.”

She wants to regain as much independence as possible, but she has several equipment needs to that goal. Eckdahl and her daughters recently moved into a home in Eagle. Although her living room is wired so she can turn on lights or the TV, her bedroom and much of the rest of the house is not.

To be able to turn on the lights herself would allow her an enormous sense of independence. “If I can go to my back door and open it on my own to let the dog out, I get a sense of normalcy.”

Additionally, both her computer and phone system are obsolete and barely work. Her wheelchair is in constant need of adjustments. And there is a list of exercise equipment she needs to be able to continue therapy at home.

A former professor of Developmental Studies at Colorado Mountain College, Eckdahl came to Colorado in 1997 from Chicago. She has also tutored many young children in the valley; but that phase of her life has come to an end.

“My entire adult life was based on education. It’s hard not to think of doing any of it,” she admits. “My focus these past several years, is in keeping myself in the best shape I can, and keeping up with my girls.” Now that her two daughters, Erin and Rachel, are teenagers, Eckdahl yearns to explore personal goals.

She wants specialized training to use a “mouth stick” so she can turn pages of a book by herself, write, paint or even play Scrabble again.

“I want to live life fully and independently,” Eckdahl says.

She also would like to attend disability conferences and join advocacy groups.

“I see myself moving in the area of disability in education,” she says. As a professor at CMC she didn’t interact with disability services there. She now has an entirely new prospective on disabilities and how they relate to education.

She is currently researching certification programs in disability studies. “My heart believes in the power of education. And I hope to channel more of my efforts to creating awareness for disability rights and access issues,” she says.

Eckdahl believes she has done as well as she has because of people who care. Her only tears come when she speaks of the kindness of others. She can’t imagine the community where she grew up in Chicago rallying around her as the Eagle County community has. For instance, volunteers have been bringing her meals five days a week for six years.

“People continually go out of their way to make my life better,” she notes, “I don’t take it for granted for one second.”

One of those caring individuals is Barb Hogoboom, who first met Eckdahl while delivering meals. It was Hogoboom who came up with the idea for the Peter Kater concert. She tried to contact a couple of artists about a concert in Eckdahl’s benefit. Kater was the only one that responded.

“He got back to me within a day,” Hogoboom says. Kater is only taking a small fee for the special appearance. The Vilar is offering its venue at a reduced cost as well.


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