Skip to Content

Stories from Backstage

My Friends Call Me RoboKate

DISCLAIMER: This blog post describes an intense medical procedure in graphic detail.

My name is Kate Howard. I am a musician. I am 57 years old. On May 14th, I will release my debut CD, “The Best Medicine”. My age is not the only thing that distinguishes me from my peers in the music industry.

Everything I have achieved personally and professionally would have taken a lot longer without the help of the SIMS Foundation. It might not have happened at all. I was fortunate to find the perfect therapist through SIMS. She is the first therapist I met, and we have worked together for years. She got what I was all about from the very beginning, which is no small feat. To say I am complicated would be to oversimplify matters. I am a conundrum wrapped in bacon, deep fried in avocado oil, chilled, and served on Tuesdays between the hours of 3 and 5 PM.

It took me years – decades, even – to find my people here in Austin. So, to find a therapist who not only gets me but who also knows how to talk to me in a way that challenges me; encourages me; celebrates my victories; and motivates me to be more productive and be kind to myself – that is downright miraculous. Thanks to SIMS, it costs me a mere $5 per session.

I came rather late to performing, although music has always been an integral part of my life. I developed a knack for harmonies during my 7 years as a second soprano in the church choir. An onstage panic attack while singing lead in a band for a high school talent show kept me offstage for 30 years. In the ensuing years, I earned an English degree; moved to Austin, Texas; wrote plays and poetry; and worked for 20 years as a tech writer, all the while singing harmonies to the radio or the CD player – alone in my room or my car, too scared to share my gift with the world.

I wrote my first song at age 50. Thanks to my participation in a weekly songwriting challenge, I have written 350 songs since then. Most of the songs on my album are from this challenge. Even though I am a prolific songwriter, I have a lot of anxiety about performing and about my place in the music community. Many of my peers are a great deal younger than me but have a lot more experience performing and promoting their work. Also, most of my songs are comedic, which I love, but it also makes me question where I belong. I deal with these issues in therapy. My therapist helps me to recognize the value of my work, the real fear that every musician deals with, and the fact that I have created a place for myself in this community.

Another huge hurdle that my association with SIMS has helped me with has been accepting that I have a disability. The significance of this cannot be overstated. For roughly 33 years, I have struggled to live a normal life while dealing with a chronic neurological movement disorder, Dystonia, which twisted my body into awkward and painful postures. I was undiagnosed for 20 years, treating the symptoms without knowing that a brain condition was causing me to lose control of my body. When I finally got my diagnosis, I was told that surgery was an option. Brain surgery. I opted for medication and Botox injections instead. Those helped for a while, but over time, they started losing their efficacy.

By 2018, I was having Dystonia “episodes” a couple of times a week. The part of the brain that is affected by Dystonia is the emotional center. So, sometimes an episode would start with my experiencing a wave of sadness out of the clear blue or my bursting into tears for no reason. My back would suddenly start to seize up, having commenced spasming. Then, my left shoulder would lift involuntarily in a half-shrug, my left elbow would bend behind me, and my left hand would start waving erratically. My only choice at that point would be to take a muscle relaxer, get a ride home, and go to bed.

Over time, I began to consider Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery. My neurologist had told me I was a good candidate for it. I discussed the prospect at length with my therapist. I came to the realization that I was more afraid of continuing to live with these frequent Dystonia episodes than I was of having brain surgery. The next couple of years were an emotional and a logistical rollercoaster. Going public with my decision to have brain surgery was a huge deal to me. I had to do so because I needed to ask for financial support. Fortunately, I had the benefit of having this amazing therapist who was with me every step of the way.

On December 2, 2019, I had the first of two surgeries that would change my life for the better. Fewer things have scared me more but also held such promise. First, I would have electrodes implanted in my brain. Second, I would have a neurostimulator (like a pacemaker but for the brain) implanted in my abdomen. Third, my neurologist would begin the post-operative DBS therapy. That’s when the fun begins. But first, I had to do the not-so-fun stuff.

My neurosurgeon had performed 600 successful DBS surgeries prior to mine. He requires that his patients be administered a local anesthetic so that they are awake during surgery. This enables him to test the electrode placement, making the likelihood of a successful outcome exponentially higher. But before he could do that, he had to drill 7 holes into my skull. This phenomenon felt like being inside a volcano during an earthquake. He used an outside electrical source to test the electrode placement. Afterwards, I burst into tears. The nurse asked if I was in any pain. I said “No, I am just moved by my own courage.” Again, I was grateful to SIMS. It was never clearer to me that my work with my therapist had brought me to that place.

One week later, I had the second surgery, in which a neurostimulator was implanted in my abdomen, under general anesthesia. The neurostimulator blocks signals from the brain to the muscles that told them to spasm, thereby preventing the domino effect that causes the twisting of my body and loss of limb control. Wires from the neurostimulator were connected to the electrodes in my brain.

The post-operative DBS therapy is the height of medical technology. One week after the second surgery, I visited my neurologist. Using her iPad, she sent voltage to the neurostimulator. My body straightened up immediately. It was truly stunning.  She set me up with the gear to continue to send electricity to the neurostimulator twice a week. The effects are quite remarkable. My treatment goal is to get me off my medication completely. I currently take 2/3rds the meds I took prior to surgery.

My brother calls me a semi-cyborg. My friends call me RoboKate. I still answer to Kate.

My therapy via SIMS is ongoing. I am grateful for your support of this remarkable organization. I hope you will join me for my CD release event on Friday, May 14th at 6 PM on

You can buy “The Best Medicine” from starting May 14th.

Back to top