Jesse Malin, the former frontman of punk bands Heart Attack and D Generation, was at a party at a New York Italian restaurant in May when his life suddenly changed. Out of nowhere, he felt a burning feeling in his lumbar region that traveled from his hips down to his heels. Suddenly, he collapsed and was unable to use his legs.
“Everybody was standing above me like in ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ saying all these different things, and I was there not knowing what was going on with my body,” Malin told Rolling Stone in a piece published Wednesday.
The highly energetic performer — who did his first public stage dive at age 14 during a live taping of a Fear gig on “Saturday Night Live” — ended up having a rare spinal cord infarction, or a stroke in his back, as Rolling Stone put it, that has left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Malin spent two weeks in the hospital, where he underwent several spinal procedures. He is currently in a New York University rehab facility where he does physical therapy and is learning how to do daily tasks without his legs.
Adding to the shock of learning how to navigate his new body, Malin will need to move from his walk-up apartment in New York City to one that has elevator access. The musician told Rolling Stone that the cost of relocating and his mounting medical bills, which will include long-term care and outpatient rehab, is something he fears he can’t afford — despite being insured and a working musician.
Due to his stroke, Malin also had to cancel a summer tour that would have beefed up his bank account.
Disabled people and poverty have been linked for years, according to a financial inequality report by the National Disability Institute. A 2015 report by NPR found that fewer than 1 in 5 disabled adults are employed. This is due to numerous factors, ranging from purely ableist job discrimination to workplace inaccessibility to a lack of travel accommodations that would allow a disabled person to get to a job.
Malin admitted to Rolling Stone that he has complicated feelings about receiving help. He’s been happy to raise funds for others in the past. The magazine notes that he has produced annual benefits for The Joe Strummer Foundation and donated proceeds from his pandemic livestreams to food banks. But he told Rolling Stone he’s “embarrassed” to ask for help himself.
“I always felt that we have a voice with these microphones and with these guitars and with these venues to help each other out,” Malin said. “But it’s very hard for me to take back and be that person. I don’t want to be a burden, but I’m learning. Just laying here and not being able to walk, it’s very humbling.”