How music helped Missiles and Fire Control employee overcome debilitating illness

How music helped Missiles and Fire Control employee overcome debilitating illness
May 22, 2020
As a leader in the Aerospace and Defense industry, Lockheed Martin’s 110,000 employees never stop innovating. Customers across the globe count on the corporation to solve complex problems, but that same spirit of innovation can be very personal as well. Shawn Lunce, with Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, exemplifies the type of innovative problem solving proudly fostered within the corporation. Struck down in his youth with a rare, debilitating illness, he had to come up with innovative solutions if he wanted to fully recover. Through his pain, a new hobby was born.
Shawn Lunce playing guitar

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.”

Shawn Lunce playing guitar
Over the last couple of years, Shawn’s wife, Julie, convinced him to start recording at home and sending out music for feedback from professional producers. Shawn was able to look through the darkness of a debilitating disorder that left him 80% paralyzed. He crafted an innovative solution to facilitate his recovery and it’s far from the normal physical therapy usually explored. Shawn says it’s important to take rehabilitation seriously, otherwise side effects from Guillain-Barré syndrome could be life-long. However, it’s also important to think outside the box. It’s this type of innovation Shawn now applies to his work at Lockheed Martin.