At 17 years-old, Shawn was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord. While the exact cause of this debilitating illness is unknown, it is often preceded by a bacterial or viral infection. In its most severe form Guillain-Barré syndrome can leave a person temporarily paralyzed.
Unfortunately for Shawn, who’s now an Associate Facilities Manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, this is exactly what happened. He rapidly began experiencing weakness and tingling in his extremities which turned into a loss of movement and complete paralysis as the virus killed off his nerves.
Suddenly, Shawn was 80% paralyzed.
“Over the course of three weeks, I went from running 7-8 miles a day to not being able to walk,” Shawn says. “I couldn’t tie my shoes, couldn’t use my hands to apply any kind of force or pressure. It drove me absolutely crazy not being able to move my hands or toes.”
While there’s no known cure for Guillain-Barré syndrome, there are numerous treatments to ease symptoms. After a year, Shawn was back to around 90% functionality. However, the illness left his muscles severely weakened from lack of use. He needed rehabilitation, but he did not go the traditional route.
Shawn’s father, a musician, offered a unique solution for improving his coordination and hand strength: learning how to play the guitar.
“I always admired my father’s ability to play,” Shawn says. “I don’t think I would have dedicated so much effort to music if it weren’t for his recommendation and the downtime from the illness.”
Shawn quickly realized playing the guitar kept his mind busy and sharp. His new hobby allowed him to track his progress easily. He was regaining strength and mobility in his hands, all thanks to music. As Shawn continued to recover, his passion grew. He decided to branch out and started writing his own music.
“I realized that songwriting came naturally for me,” he says. “I think it really kicked in at that point.”