Guitarist Dick Wagner plays again after suffering from neurological disease

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By Erin Kennedy By Erin Kennedy
By Erin Kennedy By Erin Kennedy
By Erin Kennedy By Erin Kennedy
By Erin Kennedy By Erin Kennedy

PHOENIX -- Dick Wagner, 70, has played guitar with Valley rock star Alice Cooper and written songs for Cooper, KISS and Aerosmith. But a few years ago, it seemed like Wagner, a Valley resident, would never play guitar again.

“I felt like my career was over, that I was never going to be able to get back on stage, that I was never going to be able to play again,” Wagner said.

In 2007, Wagner suffered a stroke and heart attack, and spent two weeks in a coma. When he woke up, his left arm was paralyzed. He went five years without being able to play guitar.

“I could make one track at a time and just play things with my right hand,” Wagner said.

After suffering from various medical issues, Wagner turned to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix and was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH). NPH is a condition where spinal fluid builds up in the skull, causing brain swelling. The buildup of spinal fluid adds pressure on nerves, resulting in impaired brain functions and motor skills.

Due to similar symptoms, NPH is often mistaken for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. However, NPH can be cured.

“An estimated five percent of all dementia patients actually have NPH, which is correctable,” said Dr. Zabramski, a neurosurgeon at Barrow Neurological Institute who performed surgery on Wagner.

During the surgery, Zabramski placed a permanent shunt in Wagner’s brain, which helps remove spinal fluid every day and improves symptoms. Soon after the procedure, Wagner’s cognitive functions began to get better.

“My balance came back; I could feel the beat again,” Wagner said. “And I picked up my guitar and I could start to play a bit.”

At 70, Wagner is playing his guitar again as well as he was before NPH, and continuing to produce and write music.

Now that Wagner can play again and has improved symptoms, he hopes to get the word out about NPH and help others who also have the condition.

“My whole life turned around, a complete change,” Wagner said.