Musician saves her career, with a little help from UNTHSC

June 14, 2019

By Jan Jarvis

Music Web2
 
As a musician, Sarah Dunbar never imagined she would one day be leaning over a cadaver studying facial muscles.

Yet, that is exactly where the University of North Texas College of Music graduate student found herself after years of struggling with severe pain caused by chronic temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJD, and an unsuccessful bilateral jaw surgery.

Just how Dunbar landed in the UNT Health Science Center Anatomy Lab is a lesson in perseverance.

After realizing that some woodwind instruments elevated her pain more than others did, Dunbar began looking for answers as part of a research project developed in collaboration with the Texas Center for Performing Arts Health.

She came to the Anatomy Lab to see how specific muscles control formation of the woodwind instrument embouchures.

Without relief from the intense pain, Dunbar feared she would no longer be able to perform.

“Music is all that I’ve ever done,” she said. “It’s my career and I didn’t want to give it up.”

The study did more than lead to answers for her. It became the first known research in which facial electromyography measurements have been compared across woodwind instruments. The study was accepted for presentation at the Performing Arts Medicine Association Conference at UCLA Medical School.

At UNTHSC, Dunbar, who became her own research subject, received help measuring facial muscle locations from Cara Fisher, PhD, Assistant Professor and Anatomist in the Center for Anatomical Sciences.

Over several months, Dr. Fisher measured 26 donor faces and provided Dunbar with data that she could use in deciding where to place sensors – provided by Rita Patterson, PhD, Professor of Family Medicine, that would be used to measure facial muscle activation patterns.

Music Web3

Dunbar also received support using electromyography while playing woodwind instruments from Sajid Surve, DO, Associate Professor of Family Medicine at UNTHSC, and Kris Chesky, PhD, Professor in the College of Music at UNT, the Co-Directors of the Texas Center for Performing Arts Health.

Under their supervision, Dunbar attached the sensors to her facial and jaw muscles, and then played five woodwind instruments to record the electromyographic output of each muscle for each instrument.

The research has given Dunbar answers, and will help her continue to learn more effective ways to cope as a professional musician with severe TMJD.

Dunbar has brought drive and dedication to her work as a budding scholar, Dr. Surve said.

“She has managed to persevere through her medical struggles while continuing to perform at a world-class level as a musician,” he said. “Rather than succumb to her pain, Sarah chose to study her problem so that potential solutions could be found, not just for her but for all musicians suffering from similar conditions.”

For Dunbar, relief from pain comes after years of trying various treatments, including acupuncture, physical therapy and dental splints. She also had two bilateral surgeries on her temporomandibular joints that did nothing to relieve the pain.

The pain was so severe that after her first year of graduate school, she decided to quit and pursue another career path. However, after taking pre-med courses, she missed her life in music and decided to try again.

This time she was able to finish her master’s degree and go on to perform around the world, winning the 2018 American Protégé International Concerto Competition at Carnegie Hall among many others.

This summer, Dunbar will defend her dissertation in music, earning a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in multiple woodwind instrument performance and plans to pursue a career in performance and teaching.

She credits UNTHSC and The Texas Center for Performing Arts Health with helping her pursue this area of research, and Eric Nestler, DM, at the UNT College of Music for helping her return to the career she loves.

“I’ve wanted to be a musician since the six grade,” she said. “It’s what defines me.”

Music Web
July 4th Covid 19 Fc
Navigating through July 4th and the summer of COVID-19

By Sally Crocker In light of new state guidelines issued last week, HSC public health expert Diana Cervantes offers some tips on how to conduct July 4th gatherings and other summertime activities with friends and family. The advice comes after the Texas Governor’s Office closed bars and ...Read more

Jun 30, 2020

Food Insecurity Donations Fc
Food insecurity concerns heighten for many as COVID-19 again surges

By Sally Crocker New HSC faculty member Charlotte Noble, PhD, MPH, and her family moved from Florida to Fort Worth in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when little was yet known about the reach of the virus, its outcomes and how long it would last. Months later, as states like Texas...Read more

Jun 29, 2020

Mayor Price Fc
50 Heroes: Mayor Betsy Price

Mayor Betsy Price and HSC share a mission to create solutions for a healthier community. Price, first elected Mayor in 2011, has consistently promoted strategies and activities that improve the fitness, health and well-being of Fort Worth residents. Her devotion to elevating the city’s over...Read more

Jun 29, 2020

Gwirtz Color Fc
‘This has been my home.’ Associate dean leaving HSC after nearly 38 years of special memories.

By Diane Smith When Patricia Gwirtz, PhD, FACC, FAHA, retires from her post as Associate Dean of Education at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences on June 30, she leaves the campus with bragging rights – she has taught physiology to every medical student since 1982. Dr. Gwirtz also...Read more

Jun 29, 2020