It took more than "the luck of the Irish" to allow Craig Brooks to do what he loves.
Brooks is a pipe major and has been playing the bagpipes for more than 20 years. He currently runs the Celtic Guard Academy of Indiana, a group of pipers and drummers that performs at parades and various events.
"I’m not playing at a championship level as I once did, but I am not giving up," Brooks said.
In July, he said a mysterious injury changed his life forever. He had a diabetic reaction and was rushed to the hospital where he had emergency dialysis and kidney surgery.
Feeling out of the loop? We'll catch you up on the Chicago news you need to know. Sign up for the weekly Chicago Catch-Up newsletter here.
During his nine-day stay at the hospital, he explained that he went into a coma. When he woke up, Brooks had lost all feeling in his hands.
"I remember nothing. I woke up in the hospital and I couldn’t move," Brooks said. "I remember telling my wife, 'something’s wrong.'"
During the coma, Brooks' said his ulnar nerves stopped working. He went home to consider his options when his wife found help at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
The surgeons were perplexed by the situation. The loss of hand function on both sides, without a specific trauma to the nerve like a laceration or crash, is extremely rare.
"We think maybe this was ischemia or something else," said Dr. Jennifer Wolf an orthopedic hand surgeon at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Wolf was one of two surgeons who operated on Brooks, performing a nerve graft in October. His prognosis is still questionable.
"We know when you have a nerve injury, it's uncommon to regain full function," Wolf said. "The older we are, our ability to recover full function of those nerves is less."
The ulnar nerve controls fine motor skills, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, which Brooks explained is critical to operating the bagpipes.
Brooks was given a choice.
"[The doctor] said 'if we do nothing, you’ll never play the bagpipes again,'" Brooks said.
"They said if you don’t do this [option], you’ll never be able to play again. We just looked at each other and broke down crying," his wife Dianna Brooks said.
Brooks chose the surgery and said he was determined to fight through the pain. He still feels extreme discomfort more than four months later, he explained, and hasn't regained full feeling in his fingers.
He's since retrained himself on the bagpipes.
"It’s very difficult because I’m guessing where the holes are. There’s only nine holes on the bagpipe chanter," he said. "Because my hands are frozen in that manner, where I can’t bring them in or out, I have to teach myself."
It will likely be a long road to recovery, but Brooks said he won't give up. His family and friends said they aren't surprised by his devotion to his craft.
"I’ve never seen anybody fight so hard to get back to where he is. There’s one thing Craig Brooks has and that’s tenacity," Dianna said.
"I was a little concerned the type of surgery, but he’s a fighter," said Martin Hughes, a longtime friend and colleague. "Here he is today, and we’re out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. That’s Craig."