Salute to Heroes: Lexington veteran creates adaptive musical instrument for paralyzed veteran friend

Music has been an important part of Mike Conrad’s life for as long as he can remember. An Army veteran, Conrad loves to sing and play the bass guitar especially at Reedy Creek Baptist Church in Lexington. But in February of 2018 everything changed.

© WXII 12 salute to heroes: brian mobley

Conrad suffered a stroke during quadruple bypass surgery and lost movement in the left side of his body, along with much of his vision. Until recently, he thought that meant the end of his days as a musician.

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Brian Mobley of Lexington had different plans.

A fellow veteran and friend of his from Reedy Creek, Mobley has spent the last year designing an adaptive musical instrument that his wheelchair-bound friend can play with just his right hand.

“I had to think of a way to bring him back into the circle of music,” Mobley says.

Despite his numerous connections working with veterans through the NCWorks Career Center in Lexington, Mobley said he is unaware of any group or any person who makes musical instruments specifically designed for veterans with a physical disability.

Mobley specialized in avionics in the Air Force but has no specific musical background. He says the creation of the modified “Diddly Bow” has involved a lot of trial and error, and help — particularly from Marathon Jam, an organization that uses music to help injured vets.

In the late stages of his design process, his church friend Gary Miller, a musician, played a critical role, too. Miller helped come up with the idea of a special “saddle” that Conrad holds in his right hand and slides up and down the neck of the instrument. There is a small metal piece inside of it that helps the user sustain notes.

In mid-September, Conrad and his wife, Sharon, flew back to North Carolina from Arlington, Texas (where they recently moved for his care purposes) to see their friends, receive the instrument, and learn how to play it.

It didn’t take Conrad long to crack a big smile after playing a few gentle notes.

“It’s kind of like getting your breath back when you’re out of wind,” Conrad said, when asked what it was like to be able to play music again.

The American Red Cross is honoring Mobley for his work. He is one of this year’s ‘Salute to Heroes’ award recipients — an event put on by the American Red Cross recognizing outstanding local citizens, including veterans, for their contributions to the community.

Mobley says Conrad and his wife are the real heroes and he’s just happy to be able to assist his friend.

“That’s just the way really veterans are, you know? They don’t leave anybody behind. They help each other,” he said.

Mobley is now working with the VA in Fort Worth, Texas, in hopes of continuing Conrad’s music therapy. One day, he hopes to establish a program there for other veterans with physical disabilities so they can get back into music, or perhaps, discover it for the first time using these adaptive instruments.

If you would like to get in touch with Brian Mobley to learn more about adaptive instruments for veterans, his email address is brian.mobley@nccommerce.com.

READ THE FULL STORY:Salute to Heroes: Lexington veteran creates adaptive musical instrument for paralyzed veteran friend

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