Musicians pitch in with benefit concerts to help singer Ingrid Sertso

Ingrid Sertso (Dion Ogust | Almanac Weekly)

For years, we’ve been hearing warnings that overuse of antibiotics could lead to a crisis of mutated microbes that fail to respond to the usual drugs. And now MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is here, and the staph infection is prevalent in the places where the most antibiotics are in use: our hospitals and nursing homes.

When leaders of the world’s major industrial nations met at the G7 summit in Germany this June, one of the issues discussed was the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections. Scientific academies of the seven countries issued statements that recommended boosting research on treatment options and raising public awareness about the problem.

Singer Ingrid Sertso of Woodstock, co-founder of Creative Music Studio, now has awareness of MRSA from personal experience. Her story of disaster and recovery began with a broken arm on December 5 of last year. Although the injury was not serious, Sertso, 71, spent a night in the hospital with an IV.

Sertso returned home and was fine for about a week. Then, she recalled, “I got tired, I couldn’t eat, and every day it got worse. I became nauseous. I went into delirium shortly before the new year. I don’t remember getting back to the hospital. In intensive care, a lot of friends went to visit me, and I can’t remember one face. From New Year’s to the end of February, I was half awake and half gone — mostly gone.”

The infection spread to the liver and kidneys, and Sertso contracted pneumonia. She needed a ventilator to breathe and a tube feeder to take in nourishment. “I couldn’t eat or speak for two and a half months,” she said. “I couldn’t get up and could only lie on my back. They tried to find the right antibiotic that would kill this bacteria. Many doctors came to see me.”

She was also visited by monks from Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) monastery in Woodstock, where Sertso and her husband, musician Karl Berger, study and practice Buddhism. Dr. Charles Kutler, the physician of KTD teacher Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, finally found the antibiotic that cleared up the infection.

Sertso was transferred to Wingate Rehabilitation Center in Beacon, where she relearned how to walk, sit, eat and speak. “When you have something like that, you become like a baby,” she said. “I got fantastic physical therapy. The young girls who worked with me said I learned so fast. I was two days on a walker, then on a cane, and then I walked freely. I had to learn to eat right so nothing goes into my lungs.”

Staph bacteria tend to infect people with low immunity. Sertso, on the other hand, was in good health. “I’d never been so sick in my life,” she remarked. “I used to do yoga every day and African dance, qi gong. We eat a good diet, organic food. But several doctors said if you break something, it’s such a shock to the immune system and the body.”

Several musicians have offered to perform at two fundraisers to help pay Sertso’s medical bills. The first benefit will be held this Monday, September 28 at the Falcon in Marlboro, Sertso will be joined by her husband, CMF co-founder Karl Berger (piano, vibes), Peter Apfelbaum (reeds), Joe Fonda (bass), Harvey Sorgen (drums), Steve Gorn (bansuri flute), Kenny Wessel (guitar) and other special guests.  The performance starts promptly at 7 p.m.

On Saturday, October 17 from 5 to 11 p.m., the Kleinert/James Gallery in Woodstock will host an evening party and performances to celebrate Sertso’s recovery and to help recoup costs from her medical bills. Highlights from this concert will include Jack DeJohnette (solo piano), Woodstock Percussion founder Garry Kvistad (solo percussion), Marilyn Crispell (piano) with Doug James (drums), Steve Gorn (flutes) with Ingrid Sertso (vocals), Karl Berger (piano/vibes) with Tani Tabal (drums), John Menegon (bass), Teri Roiger (vocals), Ted Orr (guitar), Marc Black (vocals), Nina Sheldon (piano) and other well-known musicians from the Hudson Valley and beyond.

For those who cannot attend the benefits but want to make a financial contribution, donations can be made on the Creative Music Foundation website with a note that says “For Ingrid.” For details, visit or contact [email protected].

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