Nick Lee, guitarist of the LI heavy metal band Moon Tooth, suffered a series of seizures that put him in a coma for 31 days after collapsing at a rehearsal. Set to be discharged from Glen Cove Hospital Wednesday, he spoke Tuesday about how it felt to awaken. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nick Lee, guitarist and songwriter for Long Island metal band Moon Tooth, who emerged a little more than a week ago from a medically induced coma, told Newsday he hopes to return early next year to the recording studio and stage.

Lee, 32, a Massapequa Park native living in upstate Beacon, was hospitalized July 21 after hitting his head in a fall at rehearsal, the band said in a release. He suffered multiple seizures tied to a rare autoimmune brain disorder, limbic encephalitis, said his fiance, Lianna Halko, and Dr. Lyubov Rubin, a Northwell Health neurologist who treated him. 

Doctors induce a coma to allow the brain to recover from swelling. Lee was brought out more than a week ago, and is scheduled to be released Wednesday from Glen Cove Hospital.

“I’ve had good days where I’m looking forward to a healthier life, where I can take care of myself, and bad days of total panic and depression,” Lee, 32, said Tuesday in a phone interview. He said he remembered little of the last month and nothing of the days before his fall, when he played two shows. Because the disorder impaired his short-term memory and fine motor skills, he must relearn 60 to 70 songs he once played by memory at shows around the globe with Moon Tooth and another band, Riot V.

He also must rebuild hand strength and dexterity. “The first time I picked up the guitar, pretty much right after I got out of the coma, I could barely move my fingers,” he said. It still hurts to play.

In a 2016 interview with the website Premier Guitar, Lee said his influences included Black Sabbath, country great Chet Atkins and Metallica. 

Riot V frontman Mike Flyntz, who taught Lee at his Guitar Masters School of Music in Copiague before recruiting him to his band, called Lee — tattooed, with hair below his shoulders — “the most kind, polite, sweet quiet kid. Then when he gets on stage… he becomes a different person. He’s an animal.”    

Moon Tooth, formed a decade ago, played local venues including Bellmore Billiards and Amityville Music Hall and Brooklyn’s St. Vitus. Music Hall manager Jules Bona said the band typically packed the venue. 

“Rolling Stone” called the band’s 2019 album, Crux, released by Long Island label Modern Static, “the year’s most exhilarating and heart-wrenching heavy-rock album.” Producer Gene Freeman, who works under the name Machine and assisted on the album, likened Lee to Adrian Belew, of King Crimson. Label president Tom Gnolfo said the band injected melodic and blues elements into an aggressive metal sound and was among the most prominent of about 50 in the genre on Long Island. Lee, he said, “has got the tone of God in his fingers.” 

Moon Tooth later signed with Pure Noise Records and was touring to promote its latest album, Phototroph, when Lee was felled. “They were just starting to really break on through,” said band manager Jonathan King.

About 2,000 people have contributed roughly $150,000 to an online fundraiser to offset Lee’s medical expenses. Dozens of clinicians at three hospitals participated in his care. It will take time, but Lee can regain every bit of his skill, Rubin said.

In recent days, Lee listened to Phototroph on repeat and transcribed the music in a notebook to “cement” it in his memory once more, Halko said.

Hospital staff permitted him to keep a guitar in his room but not to hook it into an amplifier.

A nurse requested he play Bob Marley. "My heart was beating out of my chest," Lee said. "I got through the first verse and the chorus." 

An eventful year

May — Phototroph release

July — Put in coma with rare brain condition

August — Emerges from coma

September — Tour dates, marriage to Lianna Halko postponed

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