Thursday, December 14, 2006

Phil's Blood Bounty

Sometimes I get a little weary posting about Phil's health (just 'cause we don't like hearing any bad news). But, in the end, I think it's positive because Phil has been addressing his health issues, getting treatment, and then getting out the educative word about these health issues. I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing that Jerry had taken such a pro-active approach. As always, best wishes and prayers for Phil and all the others with similar conditions.


Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh gives money for blood
by Neal Rubin

The doctor back home in California thought the best thing to do with Phil Lesh's prostate issue was watch and wait.

Lesh thought that was a fine idea, except for the part about it being slow, stupid and pointless. So the founding and only bass player for the Grateful Dead made haste for Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where he had surgery last Tuesday at the increasingly legendary Vattikuti Urology Institute.

More than 2,700 other men have had their cancerous prostates robotically removed at Vattikuti since 2001, and it's sort of like million-dollar lottery winners: After the first few, everyone stopped paying attention.

What makes Lesh noteworthy, aside from his resume, is that he's celebrating the occasion by putting a bounty on blood donations. Give a pint by the end of the year, let him know about it, and his nonprofit will donate $10 to Vattikuti.

Lesh, 66, has been a big booster for organ donation since he received an aftermarket liver in 1998. After racking up more Frequent Transfusion Points at Henry Ford, he has widened his scope.

"Holidays are the worst time of year for blood donations," he pointed out, but the need for blood doesn't go away just because everybody who's not on a gurney is at the mall.

Leshes did their homework

Lesh has been micromanaging his health care since he ignored the early signs of hepatitis C and it wound up costing him a body part. He and his wife, Jill, did their homework on prostatectomy and decided that Detroit in December was the place to be.

The robotic technique pioneered at Vattikuti is considerably less invasive than the old method, said Henry Ford spokeswoman Zoila Brown, with fewer and milder side effects. "We've actually had patients from every state," she said, and recently someone dropped by from Antarctica.

Lesh's case was typically smooth. He checked out of the hospital after 36 hours, checked into a Dearborn hotel for a few days of recuperation, and was scheduled to fly home to Marin County this morning. He could have taken off Saturday, but waiting a few extra days allowed him to leave his catheter behind.

In Dearborn, he said, he was out and about every day, "trying to balance rest and exercise so the rest will mean something, and my whole being won't atrophy." His destinations included The Henry Ford and Fairlane Mall -- entertaining enough, if not his most enjoyable visit to the area.

"I remember partying at the Pontchartrain with the (Jefferson) Airplane in 1970," Lesh said. "Quite an evening."

Inform Lesh of blood donation

With the Grateful Dead largely expired, his focus this millennium has been on Phil Lesh and Friends, a revolving cast of musicians playing what he calls "Dixieland-style rock."

His prostate's musical career is over, but the rest of him doesn't expect to miss any performances, and he is looking forward to writing as much as $50,000 worth of checks to Vattikuti through the Unbroken Chain Foundation.

After you offload a pint, simply send an e-mail to, put "I Gave Blood" in the subject line, and give your name, blood bank name, city and state.

Compared to giving blood, it's easy, not that giving blood is all that difficult. And be you a rock star, rock fan or rock collector, don't forget the most important thing, other than the part about saving lives:

Free cookies.

Reach Neal Rubin at (313) 222-1874 or Catch his blog at

Phil pic by Getty Images


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