Cellist-Doctor Uses Music to Fight Diseases

Music is 'Healing Force' in Health

"He sees music as a healing force in wellness," said Dr. Ronald Copeland, executive director for the Ohio Permanente Medical Group, who hopes to help Roter leverage his project through the Kaiser Permanente network.

Roter, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., started the cello in third grade because "it was the largest instrument offered."

He was later accepted to Juilliard's pre-college division, winning their cello competition and playing Lalo's Cello Concerto solo at Lincoln Center.

Later, as a student at Manhattan School of Music, he was twice selected as only one of 12 cellists around the world to perform the master classes of the prestigious Piatigorsky Seminar in Los Angeles.

"After music school I was in competitions, but one day I thought to myself, even if I won the top prize, and even if I succeed at this, so what?" said Roter.

He thought back to high school, when he had enjoyed the sciences and decided to go back to become a doctor.

"Maybe it's time to go down another fork -- there was so much to learn and I thought there was more to me," he said. "I wanted to do something to help people."

After doing his pre-med work at New York City's Hunter College, he got his medical degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, in Cleveland, Ohio.

"During medical school I barely practiced, and during my emergency medicine residency I didn't play at all," he said. "I remember listening to the radio on the way back from a tough shift and hearing some music which I had played only a few years before.

"I couldn't imagine that I had ever played such difficult music and I really wondered if I could still consider myself a musician even though I had nothing to show for it!"

That was, until he created "Bach to Health," carefully choosing high-profile charities -- from the Michael J. Fox Foundation to fight Parkinson's disease to the AIDS Research Alliance -- those with national visibility and an effective track record.

Though he hopes to boost fundraising, Roter also seeks to raise awareness about lesser known diseases that can have devastating effects.

One, ankylosing spondylitis, is a form of arthritis of the spine that usually strikes between the ages of 17 and 35, when patients are "young, bullet-proof and 20-feet tall," according to Laurie Savage, executive director of the Spondylitis Association of America. (SAA)

The disease -- often called "bamboo spine" for the way in which it can fuse the back bones -- is the most overlooked cause of persistent back pain in young adults and can also lead to damage in the eyes, heart and lungs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ankylosing spondlylitis and its related diseases can affect up to 2.4 million Americans, more than multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and Lou Gehrig's disease combined.

Roter's wife is a rheumatologist and suggested her husband consider SAA, her "favorite" charity, and for three years running an Oprah's "high marks" pick in the field of arthritis.

When learning Roter had dedicated Suite No. 4: "Sarabande," Savage, a piano player, said the news was "music to my ears."

SAA will do a cover story on Roter in the next issue of their magazine and provide links through their social networking sites.

The impact, according to Savage, will be enormous.

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