Rock Legend Returns to the Stage
After five years of suffering from dementia-like symptoms and unable to play guitar, Alice Cooper's former bandmate and guitar legend Dick Wagner has returned to music after having been successfully treated for a commonly misdiagnosed brain condition. Wagner, 70, was treated by Joseph Zabramski, MD, at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, and today is back in the spotlight.
Wagner, who lives in Arizona, and co-wrote the majority of the Alice Cooper Band's top selling songs, including the hit "Welcome to My Nightmare," thought his profession as a guitarist was over when he began to exhibit symptoms such as memory loss and gait.
"I couldn't turn to the left as I walked, I would often fall, and I could no longer play guitar," says Wagner. I didn't know what was happening to me and I thought my career was over."
Wagner sought help from Barrow Neurological Institute and was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH), a condition caused by a build-up of spinal fluid in the brain. The spinal fluid puts pressure on the nerves that control the legs, bladder and cognitive function. The symptoms are similar to Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, but with NPH, they are reversible.
Wagner immediately began feeling his symptoms subside after undergoing surgery in which neurosurgeon Dr. Zabramski surgically placed a permanent shunt in Wagner's brain that drains a small amount of spinal fluid every day.
"I was like a new man overnight," says Wagner. "For five years I didn't have the strength or coordination to pick up the guitar. That all changed immediately after surgery. I got my life back."
NPH typically strikes after age 55. An estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Americans suffer from NPH and the number is on the rise because of an aging population.
"Because NPH mimics the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, the condition is very difficult to diagnose," says Dr. Zabramski. "An estimated 5 percent of all dementia patients actually have NPH, which is correctable."
Barrow's Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center has created a clinic to screen and diagnose NPH patients. The condition is diagnosed with a CT scan or MRI followed by a spinal tap. Once a patient is diagnosed, they undergo surgery to implant the shunt. Most patients instantly feel their symptoms reverse.
Wagner, who is also known for writing songs for KISS and Aerosmith, is now back on the road touring and promoting a book he recently authored.
"I made a complete turnaround of my life after my surgery," says Wagner. "It feels great to be back on the stage."