Nothing external had ever been able to hurt John Nelson.
Serving in the Marines from 1951-73, the 72-year-old Danvers resident had seen more than his share of front-line action. He spent 18 months in a fighter squadron in Korea, flying F9 Panther Jets. Interestingly, he was in the same squadron as John Glenn, the future astronaut and United States Senator, and Ted Williams, Hall of Fame baseball player. Nelson also did two tours of duty in Vietnam. Despite being in harm's way a great deal of the time, he escaped both conflicts unscathed.
Ironically, it was internal forces that took their toll on Nelson. On January 14, 2004, Nelson began to feel ill at work. He was cold and clammy and knew something was wrong. He was taken by ambulance to Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, where a CAT scan revealed not one but five blood clots on his brain. He was immediately sent by MediVac to Boston Medical Center, where he underwent three major brain surgeries in three days. During the surgeries, four of the blood clots were removed from the outside of his brain, while the largest one was removed from inside, which caused him to have a stroke. The stroke paralyzed his left arm, leg and hand. The man who had served with John Glenn and Ted Williams now couldn't even lift a paper cup.
Ultimately, he went to New England Rehabilitation Hospital at Danvers, where he spent 61 days in rehabilitation. His recovery was nothing short of a miracle. When he left the facility, he was able to walk a little and could some simple tasks. He has slowly improved over the last 1 ½ years, to the point where he moves without a walker or cane. He lifts weights - even with his previously damaged left arm - and can vacuum and cook as well. He even does a bit of karate training. He recently visited New England Rehabilitation Hospital, where he amazed the therapists with his capabilities. "I keep getting better all the time," he said.