Patient born in Scotland, raised in Africa: “Music touches my core”

Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), Derek Wallace turns to music to help with his healing.

His father played with the Aberdeen Orchestra in North East Scotland. Derek Wallace said he didn’t inherit the gift of performance but he did inherit the gift of music appreciation.

On a recent afternoon, he tapped out a few notes on the keyboard while music therapist Adam Perry joined him on guitar. Wallace has been a patient at IU Health for more than a year and during his long stays, he looks to music to help sooth his soul.

It was Sept. 7, 2018 when Wallace was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He almost passed out going up a flight of stairs and was rushed to IU Health Methodist Hospital. Following his diagnosis he was in the care of Dr. S. Hamid H. Sayar and spent a month hospitalized undergoing chemotherapy.

“The result was continued remission but at that stage we were looking at the next steps for a compromised immune system and the recommendation was to come in for stem cell replacement,” said Wallace who was referred to Dr. Jennifer Schwartz. But in January during a routine EKG, doctors discovered Wallace had a heart attack sometime after his diagnosis. He began care with cardiologist Dr. Brian O’Leary and underwent two surgeries to correct blocked arteries.

“I’ve been all around IU Health and my care has been superb,” said Wallace. “Everyone works as a team and they all focus their time on you.”

Born in Scotland, Wallace was raised in Africa. His parents moved to Zimbabwe when he was two.

“Things in Britain were tough after World War II. My parents wanted a different life for us,” said Wallace who has one older brother. “Things were definitely different. Growing up we watched ‘Bonanza’ and it was very much like that. We once killed a cobra in our living room that slithered right past the couch my mother was sitting on.”

Eventually his family moved to the United States where Wallace attended Kentucky Christian University and finished up his pre med requirements at IUPUI. He went on to work for Young Life for nearly 30 years and then in the service parts at Chrysler. He is married to Mary Ann and they have a blended family of five including his wife’s son and daughter and his triplets – two boys and a girl. They have five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

On June 21, Wallace received a stem cell transplant and hopes he’s on the path to full recovery.

“I look forward to the music. I love folk music. It reminds me of my childhood,” said Wallace. “On my worst days, it really picks me up.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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