Strumming to a Different Tune, Guitarist Fights Ataxia

UTICA, N.Y. -- As a kid, Ian Bouras played guitar and it's what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

"I played with a rock band in New York City. We toured a bit, and I was also a session guitar player. Mostly live work," said Bouras.

He was in some disco bands, and even opened up for The Temptations. Bouras was doing what he dreamt of, living the lifestyle of a professional guitarist, but then something happened.

"I was recording something and I couldn't play it quick enough."

Two more weeks of practice.

"I still couldn't do it and I said, 'Something is wrong.'"

His first doctor was stumped. It wasn't until Bouras visited a neurologist when he was diagnosed with ataxia. It's rare, and described as not a specific disease but a symptom of many different conditions that affect the nervous system.

"It's affectionately called 'the drunk disease' because the slurring of the speech, your balance is a little bit [off], and your coordination. You can appear drunk."

He says as a musician, it's especially hard to convince people that's not the case, and it's made playing guitar difficult.

"I play a lot slower."

But Bouras says now his playing is a much deeper experience, and plays shows occasionally to try to raise awareness and funds for the National Ataxia Foundation.

"I don't look at it as 'before I was playing', I'm just playing whether I have ataxia or not. People are like 'can we go?' and I'm like, 'Yeah in a few minutes'. Two hours later, I'm still playing."

Bouras says compared to others, his condition is mild.

He is trying to spread awareness of Ataxia. He encourages people to learn more by visiting the National Ataxia Foundation's website.

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