Music Teacher Overcomes Disability Inspiring Many

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el-vaquero-staff-writer/" class="creditline">JUDITH GHOUGASSIAN
El Vaquero Staff Writer

He is an organist, a piano professor on campus and a man who lost his left arm. Fifty-eight-year-old Mark Thallander was on his way to Ogunquit, Maine to visit a friend Aug. 3, 2003, when a thunderstorm following him from Mass. all the way into Maine, changed his life.

According to Thallander, as he was making his exit, the car hydroplaned into a ditch, then over the barricade and into the oncoming traffic.

“I was hanging from the driver’s seat, held up by the seatbelt, into the passenger’s seat,” said Thallander. “I lost nearly 70 percent of my blood. Even though my glasses had been thrown to the floor, I could see the windshield was red.”

Due to the weather, Thallander was not airlifted, but immediately transported by ambulance, forty miles north of the crash site, to the hospital, Maine Medical Center, which helped save his life.

“The hospital was ready for my arrival,” said Thallander. “I signed the papers giving approval for the amputation should it be necessary.”
According to Thallander, his left arm had been torn out of its socket and crushed in at least three places.

“Even if the arm could have been attached, it was doubtful if it would even ever work properly again,” said Thallander. “It might have just hung there.”

Thallander was notified that same evening, that his father had been in an accident in Stockton.

On his second day at the hospital, Thallander had a morphine overdose, and almost died once again. His lungs had filled with fluids, and according to Thallander, he experienced the “gurgle of death.”

Yulhader Revere, a nurse at the hospital found Thallander and took immediate action. “My eyes had rolled into my head,” said Thallander. “A nurse yelled ‘STAT 317’ and my room was filled with doctors and nurses, who eventually brought me back!”

His father was undergoing hip surgery the same day, but did not recover from it. He was taken off of his life support
on Aug. 10, a day after Thallander’s birthday. He was unable to attend the funeral, but was able to listen to the proceedings through a cell phone.

Thallander recalls that family and friends surrounded him with positive thoughts and prayers from across the nation.

“Hundreds of e-mails flooded the hospital, as well as cards, flowers and plants,” said Thallander. “There were so many floral arrangements that every patient on the third floor that didn’t have one in their room received one!”

Seven days after the accident, Thallander was released from the hospital with an amputated arm and transferred to New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Portland for therapy. He experienced a quick recovery, given the severity of his injuries.

At the Rehabilitation Hospital, Thallander learned how to make breakfast, take a shower, dress, along with receiving physical therapy.

“I didn’t think he would make it through the accident, and definitely not play the organ again,” said the Chairman of Musical Department, and Instructor of Music Dr. Peter Green.

Following his therapy, Thallander returned to Stockton, Calif. to work with an organist, in hopes of the possibility to play a duet at his father’s memorial in November.

“I didn’t think I would be able play again,” said Thallander.
The organist stepped away for a moment, leaving Thallander alone to face the long anticipated question as to whether he will ever play the organ again.

“My mother was there, and I played a hymn for her,” said Thallander. “A woman came up to me with tears in her eyes. She said it sounded like I was using both hands. After that, I was determined that I would play again.”

On Nov. 15, Thallander performed at the memorial service for his father. Within that week he also performed at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, where he was a musical assistant as well as associate organist for 18 years.

Since then, Thallander has continued to play the organ, and has also performed at the Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, where he served as Director of Music along with performing as an organist from 1995 to 1998.

The passion for the organ was instilled into Thallander’s heart from a young age. He began playing the organ in high school, when a small church he attended needed a substitute.

“The former organist, who was going on vacation to Hawaii for two weeks, gave me a few lessons to assist me in playing for a modest church service,” said Thallander. He eventually went on continue organ lessons in a graduate program at Cal State Long Beach and USC.
Thallander currently teaches one section of piano class in GCC’s piano lab, and also has one student whom he teaches on the largest pipe organ, at the Glendale Presbyterian Church.

“He is something very special,” said student Grace Chung. “I am so happy to have him as my private instructor, and I really appreciate his teaching.”

On March 21, Lake Avenue Church held a benefit concert for Thallander, for which he accompanied alongside a 1,000-voice choir. Amongst the many participants of the event was the Glendale College choir, directed by Green. According to Thallander, 3,800 people attended, and the outcome was “phenomenal.”

“It was amazing,” said Green. “He is so musical. It was so inspiring to see him perform again in front of thousands of people with one hand and two feet!”

Recently, Thallander finished playing two Good Friday services, including an Easter Day performance at the Central Assembly of God, in Springfield, Mass.

Although he is able to play the organ, daily tasks continue to be difficult, and take longer to accomplish. Thallander received a $50,000 prosthesis, which was paid for by a local fundraising drive. He continues to receive therapy through Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics.

When asked if Thallander has a positive attitude amidst everything he has experienced, Green replied, “Unbelievably!” “I really don’t think I would have been nearly as positive as he has been since his accident.”
Thallander’s faith in God has helped him maintain a positive attitude, and he hopes that it inspires other people.

“I was not in a position to be in control, so I had to let go and let God take over!” said Thallander. ” I worked at The Crystal Cathedral for 18 years…so I was grounded in possibility thinking…positive faith…that with God, all things are possible.”