Guitars help returning soldiers recover

Reprinted from Atlanta Journal
By Bill Liss

ATLANTA — LCpl. James Sperry suffered blast and shrapnel injuries in fierce fighting in Iraq and is now learning to play guitar for the first time, a proven therapy for troops returning with severe brain injuries.

“Since my injury I haven’t had coordination – the fine motor skills I guess they call it. But over time slowly it’s starting to come back a little,” Sperry said.

The guitar is the perfect vehicle to build coordination, according to Shepherd therapists.

“It’s a way to be able to express yourself without using words,” said Shepherd recreational therapist Amy Heeter. “Using words when you’ve experienced the things these guys have experienced can be very difficult.”

The only trouble was they only had two guitars — one personally rebuilt by Shepherd President and CEO Gary Ulicny.

So the Help Desk got right to work.

Now 48 hours later — 65 guitars.

Fifteen are coming from 11Alive News viewers and 50 from the National Pawnbrokers Association.

For the troops at the Shepherd Center that means something special.

“When they leave, they are going to get a guitar and everyone is going to get a guitar. So they go back home and go back to their normal lives again with a little bit of a release to be able to do something musically,” said Peter Collman, Director of Shepherd’s Community Services.

For the Pawnbrokers, it was an easy decision.

“Being a veteran and having been overseas, it’s just a natural thing to do,” said David Adelman, Past President of the Pawnbrokers Association.

For injured troops like LCpl. Sperry, learning to play guitar and taking it home is something to really look forward to.

And for those who give, a special feeling.

“You couldn’t ask — I’m speechless really,” Adelman said.

The guitar therapy is part of Shepherd’s intensive rehabilitation program for returning troops, involving not only members of the military but their families as well. It was launched five years ago.

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