Dick Wagner spent much of his life shredding the six-string, playing lead guitar behind the touring likes of Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, and KISS, and making appearances with Aerosmith, Little Richard, Tina Turner, and more.
But in 2007, a stroke and heart attack left him debilitated.
"I woke up from a coma after two weeks with a paralyzed left arm. My profession as a guitarist, I thought was over," Wagner, now 70 and living in Arizona, told ABC news
Yet the 2007 maladies were still the tip of the iceberg for his health problems, as the deterioration of his mental abilities and development of a strange gait indicated something more than what he'd been through already.
"I couldn't turn to the left as I walked, only to the right, and I would do a spiral and fall," Wagner told ABC. "I fell completely flat on my face in the driveway on the concrete. I didn't know what had happened to me."
And another fall put Wagner in surgery again because of a blood clot.
It wasn't until 2011 that doctors diagnosed Wagner with normal pressure hydrocephalus, or NPH, a kind of dementia that affects, among other things, fine motor skills — like the kind Wagner needed to play guitar.
NPH stems from a buildup of spinal fluid in the brain's ventricles, which puts pressure on nerve clusters that control things the legs and cognitive function.
Doctors at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix performed an operation that redirects the fluid in Wagner's brain to his abdominal cavity. A small amount of the liquid is drained from his body every day, and will be for the rest of his life.
With the surgery and intense rehabilitation, Wagner is now back on the road, playing guitar with a band in Denmark.
"I am like a new man almost overnight. For five years, I couldn't even pick up a guitar — I didn't have the strength or the coordination."
NPH can often be misdiagnosed as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, as the symptoms are remarkably similar. The disease also strikes most often after the age of 55.
Wagner co-wrote most of Alice Cooper's hits with the rocker, including "Only Women Bleed," the hit from Cooper's "Welcome to my Nightmare."
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