When Lydia Zotto, a 24-year-old virtuoso from Troy, volunteers at Albany Med, young patients and their parents sit spellbound by the music she creates with her six-foot-tall golden harp. What they may not realize is that Zotto, too, has been touched by Albany Med, the place she was born and, at age 17, the place she nearly died.
“I was in my fifth year at Juilliard Pre-College and was auditioning all over the country for conservatory when I got very sick,” the harpist recalled. “It ended up I had encephalitis caused by mono.”
Encephalitis is an acute swelling of the brain. In Zotto’s case, the swelling ate away at the nerve coating between the two halves of her brain, temporarily paralyzing her on one side. Because of the damage the disease did to her brain, she has no recollection of her stay at Albany Med. She said she only knows the treatment, along with the love and support she received, saved her life.
Now fully recovered, Zotto, a graduate of the prestigious Eastman School of Music, also has an MBA in Health Care Administration from Union Graduate College. She said her first-hand understanding of the therapeutic benefits of music has her focused on a career as a doctor.
“I was thinking ENT (ear, nose and throat) because you can give people hearing back or help them sing again,” she said.
On one afternoon as the soothing sound she creates envelops a pediatric clinic at Albany Med, a sense of calm and happiness permeates the room.
“It makes me so happy to play here,” Zotto said, flashing a huge smile. “It’s completely fulfilling."
Her music is her special gift, given to help those at a place that twice gave her life.