The melodic strains of a violin that emanated Friday from a lobby at Barnes-Jewish Hospital carried the gratitude of a former patient who nearly lost the ability to play the instrument.
"I suppose it's a way of saying 'thank you' to the hospital, but it's a lot of things." Ken Wollberg said. "It's a way to share a beautiful thing."
Wollberg, 58, began playing the violin in a fourth-grade music class in Omaha, Neb., and became "almost addicted to it, in a way." His love for the instrument eventually led to a master's degree in viola performance from the University of Iowa.
Although he enjoyed playing professionally, his real passion was teaching viola and violin. He performed with music groups and symphonies, but it was hard to make a living off his music.
So he and his wife, Peggy, decided to launch careers as truck drivers and in 2002 began hauling rigs cross-country. Eventually, they bought a truck and leased their services.
Wollberg and his wife were hauling three flatbeds, stacked on the back of their truck on Dec. 27, 2007, when it hit a patch of ice in Montana and slid the length of about four football fields before toppling to its side.
Peggy Wollberg and the couple's Yorkshire terrier puppy, also in the cab, were not injured. But the driver's side window had shattered, and Wollberg's left elbow took a beating. His triceps muscle detached, and bone scraped away from his elbow.
"I told him from the get-go that it was uncertain if he'd be able to play again, depending on the amount of nerve damage, weakness and stiffness," said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jay Keener.
'It was a struggle to play again'
Keener reattached Wollberg's triceps muscle to the bone. Plastic surgeon Dr. Ida Fox performed a skin graft to cover the outside of the wound. A second operation last July released scar tissue and stretched the elbow.
After months of exercises and therapy visits, Wollberg returned to teaching music.
"That whole time, I didn't realize how serious it was. My hand worked," he said, but it was a struggle to play again. "It took a month, maybe, to reach the bottom string."
He said his arm is still weak, but last fall he performed with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra in Kentucky.
When Wollberg returned to Barnes-Jewish Hospital recently for a checkup, he brought along his violin.
"I wanted to show I had my violin-playing back. I wanted them to see the work they'd done was successful," he said.
The doctors were impressed and the hospital asked the patient to schedule another appointment — but as a performer this time.
Wollberg and his friend, guitarist Jim Stieren, appeared Friday at the hospital's Center for Advanced Medicine in St. Louis. Peggy Wollberg joined them and sang a few songs, including "Amazing Grace."
Cherry Brown, 58, paused after a vascular test to join the crowd in the lobby.
"The fact that he's able to play after the accident is a wonderful thing," she said. "That's a God-given talent."