Nerve Networks: Philip Grosser’s Stroke Recovery Journey

As part of Brain Awareness Week, we’re sharing stories of brain health, injury, recovery and prevention. Check out Philip Grosser’s story, originally appearing the Fall 2012 issue of the Magee Can Do.

Philip Grosser has always been creative. A choreographer and professor of dance at Temple University, the art of movement was his primary means of self-expression for years. It took a severe stroke to open the doors to a separate—but equally powerful—compartment of his creative mind.

It was New Year’s Day 2008 when Philip suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke. After surgery and weeks in the acute care hospital, he was transferred to Magee where he spent time as an inpatient and an outpatient at the Riverfront Outpatient Center. While his motor skills remained intact, Philip suffered from aphasia, impairing his ability to speak, read and write. During his time at Magee, Philip underwent a wide range of traditional therapies, such as physical, occupational and speech therapies. And while these had a tremendous impact on his recovery, the therapy that left the most lasting impression was decidedly less conventional: art therapy.

087Art therapy uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals undergoing rehabilitation at Magee. Art therapy integrates the fields of human development, visual art and the creative process with models of counseling and psychotherapy. This type of therapy is used to assess and treat anxiety, depression, social and emotional difficulties related to disability and illness, as well as physical, cognitive and neurological problems. For Philip, it was a way to express himself when words couldn’t.

“Because of the aphasia, I had difficulty speaking or reading,” he said. “Art became the best way to express myself. I have tremendous gratitude toward Lori Tiberi [art therapist at Magee] for that.”

One thing on Philip’s mind was his brain. And it showed in his work.

“The first thing I drew was what I thought the nerves in my brain must look like,” he said. “Both the intact and the damaged.”

Soon, Philip found himself drawing abstractions without consciousness or preconceived notions of what they would become. What resulted is both striking and beautiful – and surprisingly accurate.

“I took my drawings to my neurologist the other day, and he told me I wasn’t too far off with what the nerves in my brain would look like,” he said, laughing.

Philip continued his artwork after rehabilitation, and has amassed a large collection. In July 2012, he published his artwork in a book aptly titled Nerve Networks. The result is what he calls “a visual language to describe the new inner workings of my brain.”

Today, in addition to his artwork, Philip continues to teach dance at Temple University. To learn more about art therapy and stroke, click here.

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