Meg Scrivner of Andover will try out for America's Got Talent (AGT) on Friday in San Jose, Calif. She will perform her own rendition of the song "I Can See Clearly Now" through singing and playing the piano.
Scrivner decided to audition for the talent contest after friends encouraged her to try out last summer. She introduced them to her music because one of those friends had a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Scrivner's own musical journey involves a brain injury as well.
"I kind of feel like it's my job to tell the story so that I can help somebody else," she said.
Scrivner and her two daughters were in a car wreck on April 13, 2015 at Central Avenue and Andover Road. The driver of the other vehicle took a left turn when it wasn't his time to turn and plowed into Scrivner's vehicle on the driver side. Scrivner and her youngest daughter sustained concussions, and the older daughter's left arm was broken – with both arms having severed ligaments.
It took 14 months for the younger daughter to recover, but Scrivner said her youngest didn't seem like herself for about two years. The older one underwent two arm surgeries, and Scrivner had her own problems from the brain injury.
"It was really bad. I couldn't take care of me – I couldn't take care of my two kids. My brain just would not work," Scrivner said.
She experienced an inability to think straight, having to hold up her head due to problems with neck and back muscles, stuttering when speaking, stumbling everywhere she went, getting lost and forgetting tasks. She found that she couldn't drive anymore and oftentimes just had to stay stuck on the couch with minimal stimulation.
"I could barely do anything .... I mean, these [symptoms] are pretty normal for brain injuries," she said.
While Scrivner continued having symptoms, she stepped down from her longterm substitute position as assistant to the principal at Andover Central High School. She was also removed from coaching the older kids at JAG Gymnastics and had to coach the younger ones instead. Yet, she said her fellow coaches at JAG were kind and understanding.
Naturally, Scrivner wanted to get better. She finally discovered neuro-optometrist Dr. Deborah Zelinsky after months of struggling, looking for answers and seeing many specialists. Based out of the Chicago area in Illinois, Dr. Zelinsky is an active member of the World Brain Mapping Foundation and has spent the past 30 years developing methods to assess brain function – focusing on the often untested linkage between eyes and ears. Her research in retinal circuitry has led to three patents in novel uses of retinal stimulation. Scrivner hoped Zelinsky could help.
And her hopes were not in vain. Now, Scrivner wears special glasses that help her function every day. Zelinsky fit her with glasses that aren't so much for vision – but visual and audible information intake. Prisms and angles in the lenses can help the brain make new pathways for information received instead of using old paths that may have been damaged from a brain injury. As part of this process, the glasses also connect audio and visual perception.
"She said, 'You want to keep 20/20 vision? Or do you want to feel better?' Right away, there was a difference. I was making sense. I wasn't falling anymore – stumbling around. I think she is a female Einstein," Scrivner said.
Right now, Scrivner is on her fifth or sixth pair of glasses since meeting with Zelinsky. She'd get a new pair when her brain would heal more; the glasses need to change with her brain. The concept behind Zelinsky's work is neuroplasticity, a term meaning the brain is malleable and can change or form new connections.
"The glasses take outside information and make inside information make sense," Scrivner said.
She has been seeing a physical therapist for improved posture and muscle strength as well. Scrivner is relieved to be breathing, speaking, moving and thinking smoothly again. She even substitute teaches part-time for USD 385.
"I want it back to 100 percent, and I don't know if it'll ever happen. But I want it to .... I know I still have more to go .... I still want more to come," Scrivner said.
Although she has trouble with certain activities involving numbers and needs to take it easy more frequently than she did before the wreck, Scrivner is pleased with her improvement and looks forward to increased healing. But after starting her treatments with Zelinsky's glasses, Scrivner has changed in other, perhaps more surprising, ways. For example, now she plays the piano.
"I guess I hear differently now, that's why. I'm not saying it's this massive miracle that I suddenly could play piano now. I mean, I did have some musical background," Scrivner said.
Scrivner has been singing for much of her life, and she took piano lessons for eight years as a kid. However, she said she was horrible at playing the piano as a child and that neither she nor her sisters were skilled at or interested in piano then. Her ability on the keys is noticeably superior to what it had ever been before, and she's currently a student at Music Scene in Andover.
"The weird thing is, now I can actually hear the chords – which I couldn't do before. And so I started writing my own stuff now," Scrivner said.
Her singing has changed, too.
"Even now, I can hear myself singing differently, and it's changed the way I sing," Scrivner said.
The music she creates comes from her experiences. She sings about pain, perseverance, the car wreck, her kids and other themes she loves or finds important. One song Scrivner wrote about her brain injury is called "Overcome." She plans to perform it if the judges at her AGT audition ask for another song after her initial 90-second tryout. Because of her own climb toward healing, Scrivner wants to use her music to help others who have experienced a brain injury or deal with PTSD.
"About 74 percent of PTSD and brain injury patients commit suicide at a high rate, and I don't like that. I want people to know that's not their only option when they feel like there's nothing left," Scrivner said.
She noted it's a big issue for people in the military.
"Our soldiers – I mean, they're coming home and dying," she said.
Scrivner encourages people to search for options that will help them – just like she did.
"Every day, at some point, it's still a struggle, to tell you the truth. I hope people will benefit from this," she said.
She will leave at 4:30 p.m. today to share her music and message with AGT in California, and she'll line up for her audition tomorrow morning.