My Life with Dystonia: Thomas Wade, Canadian country music artist and Juno nominee.
Thomas Wade was already the successful lead vocalist of an award-winning country-music band, an accomplished songwriter, and emerging solo artist when he was diagnosed with Oromandibular Dystonia, a neurological disorder that affects speech. Thomas noticed troubling symptoms affecting his vocal cords when his band, Thomas Wade and Wayward, was achieving domestic success on the Canadian charts. Their path towards national recognition was fully realized when Thomas Wade and Wayward secured three Juno nominations and seven Canadian Country Music Association awards from 1997 through to ’99.
Thomas’ success on the national charts was a big leap from his small-town roots in Burford, Ontario. He came from a musical family and was surrounded by diverse musical influences in his childhood. At age four he learned how to play guitar, at the age of six he began performing in front of live audiences and at the age of seven he penned the first of many songs, sitting on his back porch.
He moved towards bigger goals with his family band, Silver Wings, a popular dance band in the Brant County area. By the time he had graduated from Fanshawe College with a degree in music production, he was lead singer of Thomas Wade and Wayward and on tour. He sought more challenges and expanded his skills in music.
Thomas and his band looked towards the international market when nation-wide fame became a reality. At this point, however, his vocal cords had started to fail him, but he didn’t know why. Despite acquiring a vast skill set in music, his voice was the critical element in helping him to launch his successful career in music.
For years, Thomas struggled with vocal difficulties. At first, his ability to sing seemed to slip away gradually, then completely for reasons vocal coaches and doctors couldn’t explain. He was forced to struggle through shows, hoping for some kind of a solution. But eventually he had to give up as he was unable to sing at all. It was devastating to lose not only the career he had built over a lifetime, but integral part of his identity. Then, over the next two years he slowly lost control of his tongue and his jaws severely affecting his speech.
By the time Thomas received an official diagnosis that could help him understand what was affecting his voice, he could no longer speak. Along with an official diagnosis, doctors let him know that Oromandibular Dystonia is incurable.
When confronted with the possibility that he might never speak or sing again, Thomas made a crucial decision in his life: to learn as much he could about the brain. He was determined to defeat his dystonia rather than let it rule him. Thomas learned about neuroplasticity, a ground-breaking technique that enables the brain to reorganize itself. He explored hypnosis, and even formulated his own exercises, using the principles of neuroplasticity to recover his speech and voice. By 2011, five years after his official diagnosis, he was able to sing and speak again.
In the years between when he noticed difficulties with his voice and an official diagnosis, Thomas turned his attention towards writing and producing, focusing on what could be done with the gifts he still had rather than direct his efforts towards what was out of his control. During these years, he wrote for other artists, developing a successful writing career. Once he had gained the use of voice again, he decided that he wanted to approach music with a new sense of discovery and appreciation rather than chase the next upward trajectory in his career.
Instead, Thomas felt drawn to recapture the love of music that had inspired him to become a singer in the first place, creating an album of music that echoed the sounds that had called him to a life in music - in essence, Thomas says, he decided to “follow the love”. The result was a classic album and a triumphant return with the album, “Blue Country Soul”.
Through hard work, determination, and tremendous effort, Thomas has continued to pursue music with a different vision of where he’d like to take his writing and singing. From where he now stands in music and in life, he hopes to share his story with others with his first book, a chronicle of his journey through dystonia, called “Singing in my sleep”.
The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) Canada is the only organization that is dedicated to supporting the dystonia community in Canada. If you or someone you know is struggling with dystonia, you’re not alone. Please visit www.dystoniacanada.org to find out about resources, research, and support.
“Dystonia in even one finger can end a musician’s career. How many musicians have simply disappeared because of Dystonia. More than you know. I was one of them.” - Thomas Wade.
Learn more about Thomas Wade and his book here.
***Click here to read about Thomas Wade as the 2020 Dystonia Ambassador for Chuck's 5KM Virtual Run, Walk and Wheel for Dystonia.