Musician Dick Wagner recovers with help from "Dr Z" - KMSP-TV

Musician Dick Wagner recovers with help from "Dr Z"

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Musician Dick Wagner. Musician Dick Wagner.
Dr. Zambramski, Barrow Neurological Institute. Dr. Zambramski, Barrow Neurological Institute.
CT-Scan: Normal brain on the left, NPH case on the right. CT-Scan: Normal brain on the left, NPH case on the right.
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PHOENIX (KSAZ) -

If you ever listened to Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, KISS and countless others you've listened to Dick Wagner. He's one of the most prolific lead guitarists and sidemen in rock history but a few years ago a brain condition nearly silenced him.

For a guy whose fingers could fly effortlessly down a fret board Dick Wagner found himself stumbling over his own two feet.

"I never knew if I was going to fall, I used to fall a lot," said Wagner.

It was a humbling decline from the days of writing and performing mega hits with Alice Cooper, songs like "Only Women Bleed" and "You and Me".

In 2004, Wagner had a heart attack and minor stroke, things he should have recovered from but something else was happening to him.

"I was living in Michigan and I started having seizures," he said. Eventually, he had difficulty walking and playing the guitar was nearly impossible.

He was losing the ability to feel the beat, the days of touring with Lou Reed, playing guitar on KISS records, or co-writing with Alice Cooper seemed a distant memory.

"Every single day it was like, is my career completely over? am I going to have to completely rest on my laurels or is that it," he said.

Doctors were unable to figure out what was causing Wagner's problems. "My doctor told me I had an old brain, that was all he said to me, you have an old brain, what the hell is that supposed to mean?," he said.

For a rockstar used to strutting the stage Dick Wagner had become an invalid. One day it all came crashing down. "I was outside and I was walking my usual little shuttle and there was a garden hose. I got brave and decided to try and step over it and man I went down, square on my face and hit  the concrete. I'll tell you that is a horrible feeling," he said.

A doctor in Arizona suggested he visit the Barrow Neurological Institute. "You need to see Dr. Zambramski," recalled Wagner.

"Dick was in pretty bad shape when he came in to see me," said Dr. Zambramski. Dr. Z found himself treating one of his idols.

"He said, I love your guitar solos, and you have hydrocephalus," said Wagner.

Normal pressure hydrocephalus, or NPH is caused when there is too much fluid on the brain. It is easily detected with the help of a CT-Scan.

The buildup of fluid effects brain function and skills like walking. The fix is crude but effective as doctors insert a shunt in the brain to drain excessive fluid to the abdomen where the body will absorb it.

Wagner's surgery took about an hour and a half. FOX 10 asked Dr. Z the experience of having Wagner's ability to play music in his hands. "I don't really think about it that way when I'm doing the surgery, I think I've just got to get him through this and see what we can accomplish" said Dr. Zambramski.

Wagner has recovered after 5 months and was back on the road. "I could feel the beat again and I could get back to playing again," said Wagner.

Dr. Zambramski agrees that Wagner is back, "I couldn't be more pleased with Dicks recovery to this point. I expect he's going to be able to continue to play as well as he is now if not even better in the future," he said.

NPH is called the great masquerader because it can be mistaken for dementia and even Parkinson's disease. Dick Wagner will be out on tour later this month.

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