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Berkley studio helps disabled heal through musical therapy

October 28, 2013

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Trei Cools, 19, of St. Clair Shores, prepares to record his newest song Oct. 25 at the D-Man Foundation Music Therapy Studio in Berkley. Cools was paralyzed in a car accident his senior year of high school and has been a client of the D-Man Foundation for a few months.

BERKLEY — Trei Cools had about three months to go in February 2012 before he graduated from high school and set out on the next chapter of his life.

Cools was just like any other 17-year-old high school senior growing up in Grosse Pointe Park as he enjoyed being a member of the varsity hockey team and coming up with rap lyrics with his buddies on the weekends.

But Cools’ next life chapter came about a lot more quickly and unexpectedly than anyone could have anticipated. Riding as a passenger in his friend’s car, an oncoming bus changed Cools’ life forever on Feb. 24, 2012.

“Right off the bat, I remember waking up a couple weeks later from the accident, in the hospital, and laying in bed, and I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t really turn my neck, and I wasn’t breathing on my own,” Cools said. “Our car got T-boned by a bus, and I was in the hospital for six months and on a ventilator for three, which has caused a ton of breathing issues.

“Immediately, it came to mind that I may never be able to walk again, and I wasn’t sure if I would move my arms or upper body. I was scared.”

Just more than a year later, Ziad Kassab opened up the D-Man Foundation Music Therapy Studio in Berkley. At the age of 7, Kassab’s brother, Danny, was hit by a car and paralyzed from the neck down, needing a ventilator to breathe around the clock, as well as always having a nurse nearby.

After 16 years of being disabled, one of the final things Danny did before he passed away in August of 2009 was rap in a music studio similar to the one Kassab opened.

It was inspiration from his brother that pushed Kassab to open the studio, and it is people like Cools, who has been a quadriplegic since his accident and has used the music studio every Friday, who have let Kassab know he is making a difference.

“Danny wanted to rap and we put him in the booth, and it was difficult because he depended on a machine to give him breath, but we were able to edit out the sound of his breath and auto-tune it and put a beat in the background,” Kassab, 30, said. “The studio is my pride and joy, because I started it because my brother loved music. I want people to make songs and get healthier at the same time.”

The D-Man Foundation, short for Danny’s Miracle Angel Network, is based in Rochester Hills and started in 2009 after Danny’s passing. Kassab said the studio aims to improve the lives of people suffering from disabilities.

For 16 years while Danny lived as a quadriplegic, Kassab and the rest of the family were able to take him on trips around the globe and allow him to experience many of the things he had hoped for — something the foundation hopes to replicate for other people.

The studio was opened in April of this year and provides state-of-the-art technology to clients, thanks to foundation committee member Nabil Ansara, who runs his music production company, SandBoxx, out of the same building and serves as a music producer for the foundation.

“Psychologically, music helps everyone,” Ansara said. “If you are having a bad day, it can change your mood. When we work one-on-one with people with disabilities, it can help even more.”

In a music therapy room, the D-Man Foundation provides special equipment that helps people complete tasks despite certain disabilities. There is a special keyboard for people with sight problems, a wrist mouse for those who struggle with upper body movement and a mouth and eye mouse that can be controlled by breaths or eye movement.

While the studio technically is therapy, Ashley DeLaFranier, a board-certified music therapist, said for many of the clients she works with, music is much more.

“As a whole, when you are doing something you like, you don’t feel like you are working as hard,” she said. “For Trei, he lifts his arm when he is rapping for breath control and brings it down when he is done; he doesn’t even realize he is working on those therapy skills.

“So many studies show that music can empower us, and for these people in the studio, they are creating and working on goals, and they don’t even realize how much it is helping.”

Kassab said it doesn’t matter if clients are musically talented or not; he cares whether they enjoy producing, writing or creating music. Clients typically work in the studio anywhere from one to three hours per session, and they work with a music producer and a music therapist.

“Our first goal is to make them healthier, and if they can create good music, that is a bonus,” Kassab said. “It is an environment for creativity. A lot of people come in who suffer from depression, can’t feed themselves, can’t go to the bathroom on their own, but they come in here and they are overcoming obstacles.

“The disability does not change who they are or what kind of person they are or what they stand for.”

For Cools, now 19 and residing in St. Clair Shores, the studio has come as a blessing less than two years into his new life. While seeing kids drive, ride their bikes or playing basketball can still stress him out, knowing he can come to the studio every Friday lifts his spirits.

“Music has been sort of a therapy for me as I come in here on Friday and I spend the weeks writing lyrics,” he said. “It keeps my mind on music and not on that I can’t walk or get myself out of bed or shower myself.

“I spent 17 years totally ignorant and blind to the life of the physically disabled. The foundation wants me to be the person I was before the accident, and they all don’t look at me like I am in a wheelchair; they look at me like I’m Trei Cools.”

And ultimately, that is all Kassab, Ansara and the rest of the foundation is trying to do.

“When you hear Trei’s music, you wouldn’t even know he was in a wheelchair,” Ansara said. “That is what this is all about.”

For more information on the D-Man Foundation and the Music Therapy Studio, visit

About the author

Josh Gordon covers Berkley, Ferndale, Huntington Woods and Pleasant Ridge along with the Berkely Schools and Ferndale Schools districts for the Woodward Talk. Josh has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2013 and attended Central Michigan University. Josh won a Society of Professional Journalism award in 2015 and is an avid fan of the Green Bay Packers. During his free time, Josh likes to read, try new foods and snowboard.

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