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Patient Profile – Nick Malloy

Nick Malloy needed his left arm to work again. He needed the muscles strong and delicately toned. He needed to play chords like B minor. “That’s a pretty tough one – where you’ve got to lay your first finger on all the strings, pressing down on the frets,” says Nick, a former patient from Macon, Ga. “You have to use a lot of power in your hand.”

Nick fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his car on his 23rd birthday – March 28, 2012. He sustained an incomplete T-8 spinal cord injury, multiple fractures and wounds to his left arm and hand. The resulting paralysis in his legs seemed a secondary issue to him when he arrived at Shepherd Center on April 18. For a country music singer-songwriter who used a guitar like an extension of his body, the severe tissue damage to his arm represented a crisis.

When he was 12, Nick picked up a guitar at a friend’s house. His parents gave him one of his own at Christmas. At 13, he saw his friend’s band perform in Macon. That clinched it. “I started playing bars at 15,” he recalls.

Nick had a full calendar of bookings through summer 2012. Working in country music means long hours on the road. He was coming off trips to Alabama and Atlanta and operating on two hours’ sleep when he played a show in Macon the night of his crash.

On the way home, fatigue got the better of him. He doesn’t remember his car hitting the tree, the six hours pinned inside until he was discovered or his first weeks of surgery and intensive care at the Medical Center of Central Georgia (MCCG). For rehabilitation, MCCG referred Nick to Shepherd Center, where Lisa Gerdes, RN, was his admitting nurse.

Macon television news anchorman Frank Malloy, Nick’s father, recalls: “I was scared to death, and I know Nick was, too. Lisa was just wonderful from the first moment – her manner, her smile. We met so many people like that, just so encouraging. As parents, that meant the world to us.” Gerdes says Nick couldn’t bear to look at his heavily scarred arm, which was an obstacle to the painful rehabilitation it needed. And then there was his appetite.

“He would sometimes go a whole day and eat a forkful of rice, and that was it,” she says. Getting Nick to eat became a group project.

Nurses shopped for food to entice him. Family members brought old favorites from home. It took a month or more, but Nick’s appetite slowly returned. Meanwhile, he was coping with his paralysis. He recalls a tough two months when he thought he wasn’t making progress. “Everybody said they could see it I,” he recalls. “I couldn’t.”

Feeling frustrated and unwilling to even look at his arm, Nick and the therapists had to break up the “really severe and intensive scar tissue” in his arm with painful massage and stretching, Gerdes says. “Slowly, as the weeks went by, I worked with Nick to help him be OK with looking at his arm,” Gerdes recalls. “A lot of the process was not forcing him too much.” Nick remembers turning the corner emotionally in his last two weeks of inpatient therapy. Nick graduated from inpatient care to day program rehabilitation on June 14. During that program, he began living with his mother in the Woodruff Family Residence Center adjacent to Shepherd Center.

His left arm improved, and the splint came off his hand. But he still had not held a guitar since the accident when his friends in Macon staged a benefit concern for him on June 1. At country music star Dierks Bentley’s request, C.F. Martin & Co. donated a guitar to be auctioned off. “Those are the best guitars in the world,” Nick says. But he didn’t expect his friends to plop it into his arms.

“They were like, ‘Play it,’” he recalls. “And I thought, ‘I don’t know if I can, but it is a Martin guitar. I’ve got to play it.’” So as his friends cheered, Nick started strumming, first some easy chords. Then the tough ones like B minor. All of them came back to him – and his left hand – like old friends. “I was kind of tearing up,” he says. “I thought I could never play guitar again.”

Nick played a concert in July 2012 for fellow patients, family and staff at Shepherd Center. He went home on Aug. 10, but played Sept. 8 at a Nashville fundraiser for Shepherd Center’s Beyond Therapy®-Tennessee.

Back at home, Nick looks ahead. His spinal cord injury was incomplete, meaning “there’s a 75 percent chance of regaining some function in my lower extremities,” he explains. He plays guitar and thinks about writing new songs. “I’ve definitely got a lot more emotions going on than before the wreck,” Nick adds. “I think some good stuff will come out of this, for sure.”

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.