Nicko McBrain


Famed ‘Heavy Metal’ Drummer Recovers from Stroke, Grateful for Boca Raton Regional Treatment, Rehab

Nicko McBrain, 71, has been the drummer for the heavy metal band Iron Maiden since 1982. The English musician is considered among the most influential heavy metal/hard rock drummers, with live performances noted for stamina, intensity and technique.

But in January of 2023, he was at his home in Boca Raton when his right side was suddenly stricken with weakness and paralysis. He suffered a stroke. That was the beginning of a challenging journey of physical rehabilitation that followed rapid and precise treatment by stroke specialists at Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health.

Mr. McBrain recalls the morning of Jan. 18, 2023. “When I woke up, I was on my right side … and when I turned over, my arm wasn’t moving and I thought: ‘What’s going on?’ And I’m trying to lift my arm but I couldn’t. I let my hand go and it just dropped. And I go: ‘Oh-oh, something is wrong here.’ I didn't even think about a stroke at that moment. And then I went to get up and my right leg was all wobbly.”

When his wife Rebecca saw him, she knew immediately. “Oh my God, she said, You've had a stroke,” recalls Mr. McBrain. She knew “because apparently my face was droopy. I didn't know that. I hadn't seen myself in the mirror.”

(Watch video: Hear from Iron Maiden drummer and stroke patient Nicko McBrain and neurologist Marc A. Swerdloff, M.D. from Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital.)

Getting The Superstar Treatment

She called 911 and he was transported to Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health, where he would be swarmed by a stroke response team at Marcus Neuroscience Institute under the direction of neurologist Marc A. Swerdloff, M.D. At the time, they didn’t know he was a famous heavy metal drummer.

“I remember they got me to the hospital and there were literally ten or 12 people around me,” said Mr. McBrain. “The stroke center is there for a reason. I felt I was getting the superstar treatment because there were all these people fussing over me.”

An ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, is a medical emergency caused by decreased blood flow to the brain, which results in damage to brain cells. If that stroke victim does not receive medical treatment – which can include the most advanced clot-busting drugs -- within a certain timeframe from the onset of symptoms, permanent neurological damage can occur, possibly affecting speech, limb movement or cognitive abilities.

Recalls Dr. Swerdloff about the moment he first saw the patient: “He wasn’t able to move his right arm. Now, I remember very well because I didn't know Nicko before. But there was something about him. I said to him, and I'll never forget it because it's amazing, I said: ‘Are you a drummer?’ He says: ‘I am.’ And who knew?”

‘A Very Significant Deficit for This Person’

Dr. Swerdloff immediately understood the severity of the stroke’s impact. “This is a very significant deficit for this person, who makes a living drumming (and) has to use both hands. And he came in with an inability to move that right arm. It was just flaccid, and it was fluctuating. We had to decide whether to give him medication that opens up that area – or will it cause him to be worse? As a doctor, the rule is don't make him worse. You should do no harm.”

CT scans on Mr. McBrain revealed that his blood vessels were clean and “the brain looked great,” said Dr. Swerdloff. But, “an MRI had evidence of an incomplete stroke in the area that would cause this deficit, and we felt that it was safe to give him the intravenous clot buster.”

When he first presented, the legendary drummer “wasn’t moving his arm, and an hour later, he was moving his arm again,” added Dr. Swerdloff, emphasizing the effectiveness of the clot-busting drug that was administered.

Mr. McBrain was at a major crossroad – Iron Maiden was just a few months from a launching a new tour. “Well, I've got three months to see if I can at least play again," he recalls saying to himself.

He’s Back Drumming at World-Class Level

Before attempting any resumption of stage work, the heavy-metal drummer had to embark on a rehabilitation journey that is not uncommon for stroke victims. Julie Blum, occupational therapist at the Gloria Drummond Physical Rehabilitation Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health, would help him on this challenging journey of recouping his drumming skills.

“When I first met Nicko, I evaluated him and found that he had weakness in his right side, his right arm, his hands particularly,” recalls Ms. Blum. “He had coordination problems and some sensory deficits. We worked for nine, 10 months and then he went out on tour. His speed and his coordination got a lot better. He's done great.”

Dr. Swerdloff says Mr. McBrain dedicates more of his brain to the movement of his hands and arms as a standout drummer than probably most people who suffer a stroke. “He's pushed it to the limit and he's an extraordinary individual,” he said. “He's done remarkably. It is very nice to think that he's back drumming at the world-class level that he is. That's just exciting.”

The renowned heavy metal drummer is very grateful for his treatment and rehabilitation. “I have to just say how amazing everybody was at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. And that wasn't because they knew who I was -- although it felt like that. This is what happens to everybody that goes through that door that's had a stroke. Without them, I don't think I'd be where I am in my recovery.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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