Turned Upside-Down

guitarist who overcame condition headlines epilepsy gala

Tom Giffey

Billy McLaughlin, who re-learned the guitar left-handed after a neuromuscular condition destroyed his ability to play, will be the featured speaker at a Dec. 3 fundraising gala for the Epilepsy Foundation of Western Wisconsin.
Billy McLaughlin, who re-learned the guitar left-handed after a neuromuscular condition destroyed his ability to play, will be the featured speaker at a Dec. 3 fundraising gala for the Epilepsy Foundation of Western Wisconsin.

Finger-picking acoustic guitarist Billy McLaughlin is noteworthy for more than the albums he has released, the awards he has won, and the tours he has undertaken. The Minnesota-based New Age musician is also remarkable because he had to learn to play his chosen instrument twice: once as a boy, and the second time as an adult after uncontrollable spasms and contractions in his hand caused by a little-known neuromuscular disorder, focal dystonia, robbed him of his ability to play – and thus his professional livelihood. After being diagnosed with the incurable ailment in 2001, McLaughlin dedicated himself to re-learning the guitar – this time left-handed – and has since returned to the stage, both as a musician and an inspirational speaker.

McLaughlin will share his story Dec. 3 at Share the Flame, the annual dinner and silent auction to benefit the Epilepsy Foundation of Western Wisconsin. While focal dystonia is rare, other chronic neurological problems are far more common, particularly epilepsy: an estimated 2 million Americans suffer from epilepsy, including 14,000 individuals and their families in the 22 counties served by the Epilepsy Foundation of Western Wisconsin.

Funds raised at Share the Flame will support the Epilepsy Foundation’s work providing support for those with epilepsy (connecting people with medical resources, support groups, and other ways to improve their lives) as well as public awareness (including community education such as seizure recognition and first aid training). The local group also helps pay for youth camps, adult retreats, and college scholarships for those with epilepsy, said Louree Kelsey, director of client services and community resources for the local foundation.

WEAU-TV sports director Bob Gallagher will serve as master of ceremonies at Share the Flame, which will be held at Fanny Hill Dinner Theater. The evening will state with a silent auction from 5-7pm, followed by dinner, presentations, and the guest speaker beginning at 7:15pm. Attendees should RSVP by Friday, Nov. 15. Formal attire is admired, but not required.

Kelsey said attendees will be impressed by McLaughlin’s inspiring story as well as his music: He’ll play a little, although he won’t give a full concert. “He will come and talk about his own struggle, how he has learned to play with his challenges, but also about his son and the challenges of been father to a teenage son with epilepsy,” Kelsey said. McLaughlin’s comeback has included albums, a concert DVD, a book, and recently a regional Emmy award for a PBS special of one of his concerts. (To learn more about Billy and his music, visit billymclaughlin.com.)

Share the Flame, a dinner and silent auction benefiting the Epilepsy Foundation of Western Wisconsin • Tuesday, Dec. 3 (reservations due Nov. 15) • Fanny Hill Dinner Theater, 3919 Crescent Ave. • $60 individual, $600 table (up to 10 guests) • 834-4455 or epilepsywesternwi.org

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.