Gabrielle Giffords and TIRR: Country Legend Mickey Gilley Spent Eight Months at Hospital
Monday, in Rocks Off's review of Jerry Lee Lewis's show in Winnie, Texas, we mentioned that Mickey Gilley, legendary 74-year-old country pianist and proprietor of probably the most famous honky-tonk in the universe, was sitting at stage right.
Gilley and Jerry Lee are cousins, about six months apart in age, but while Jerry Lee was hammering at his keys with the same old dexterity he's always had, Gilley, who did not perform, required the assistance of two people to stand and wave to the audience when he was introduced by the MC.
A reader wrote to us explaining why:
Mr. Gilley was involved in a horrible accident falling back down some stairs while helping a friend move a couch. The previous year, he suffered from a condition that required fluid removed from his brain. The accident left him in intensive care, paralyzed from the neck down.
It turns out that following the fall, which happened in July 2009, Gilley spent nearly eight months in rehab at the Memorial Hermann Institute for Rehabilitation and Research, also known as TIRR, the same facility now making headlines for treating U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
We'd heard that Gilley had nothing but glowing praise for the facility, so we reached him on his cell phone to talk about his stay at TIRR, his continuing recovery efforts, and his return, last year, to the Branson Theater that bears his name.
sulla55 via Flickr
"It's a wonderful hospital," he said. "I can understand what the Congresslady is going through, due to the fact that it's tough -- that rehab is really, really tough. But you've got to stay with it. When I got there I couldn't move my left leg at all. I'm walking a little bit now and I'm getting along quite well. They did one heck of a job on yours truly."
Gilley said he fell less than two feet off a series of steps, but landed right on his neck, damaging his C-3, 4, 5 and 6 vertebrae, plus part of his seventh.
"My spinal cord swelled up and for a little bit over a month, I was paralyzed from the neck down. I couldn't move anything, I couldn't do anything," he said. "I'm very fortunate I didn't break my neck.
"I've come back to the point that I can get around fairly well now. I can do a lot of things for myself without any help. I can take a bath, I can shave, I can wash my hair, I can dress myself. There's a few things that I can't do, but the majority of the things I can do very well. I can drive my car. I'm not back a hundred percent, but I'd say I'm back about 60 percent of what I used to could do."