On a brisk January day in Washington, DC
Sergeant Jim Klages prepared his cornet for President George H.W. Bush’s Inauguration. Jim played for “The President’s Own,” the elite U.S. Marine Band that performs for the White House and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Its band members are the world’s finest musicians. Jim had the distinct honor of being the only recruited cornet soloist in the twentieth century. “I had to pinch myself. By my reckoning I had the number one position in the world’s greatest band. I thought ‘how unbelievable is this?’” Jim loves his family…but he lives for his music. But during that fateful winter day, Jim felt a strange tingling in his left arm and nearly dropped his cornet. He was soon diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and his music – and his life – spiraled out of control.
Upon receiving the initial diagnosis
Jim’s wife picked up a glass and threw it against the wall saying, ‘I hate you, God.’ Jim’s excruciating bouts of MS sharply diminished his music performance ability and prompted his medical discharge from the Marines. His lifelong dream of being a soloist came crashing down. “It felt like my arteries were cut and I was bleeding to death.” No longer a performer, Jim desperately clung to any connection with music.
Turning his career to academia, he settled on teaching music at a second-rate college in rural Colorado. Dragging his family from their established life in DC, Jim single-mindedly sought a way to continue with music and support his family. “I was determined to compose music, play music and teach music.” But pursuing that passion to those isolated mountains created distance with his family. “My wife was alone in that remote place with our young daughter. Meanwhile, I was busy putting in long hours at the college. I had to.”
Jim obsessed over building a trumpet studio while his personal life unraveled. His wife recalls, “By the time he returned home from work, there was no Jim left for us. You can’t function at that high a level of concentration all the time. There was no Jim left for me.” He pursued music at the cost of everything else. Jim reflects, “When I create music, I enter into a realm where I’m expressing emotions without self-conscious thoughts. It was my escape from the MS and problems surrounding my family.” He clung to music because it was saving him, but that choice drove a wedge in his marriage.
His darkest houR
became his turning point. Jim – hopped up on an abnormally high dose of steroids in order to play the cornet – returned from a concert. He and his wife argued, and in the heat of the moment he hit her. “I had the steroid rage, and when I hit her it felt good. I was essentially drunk. I’ve never been so ashamed in all my life.” Jim dropped steroids, and he and his wife sought counseling and began the process of healing their wounds.
A twist of fate
brought Jim’s salvation. After a performance, Jim met a chiropractor and amateur trumpeter, Dennis Doan. “Dr. Doan said ‘I think I can help you.’ I thought, ‘no you can’t…you’re a quack.’” But realizing his desperation, Jim decided to try it. Doan asserted, “I can’t promise to get you to the penthouse, but I can get you out of the basement.” Doan’s treatment forever changed Jim’s life and set him on a new path of healing. Jim gained nearly full use of his fingers and body without pain, and began to pick up the pieces of his troubled past.