End of the Road for Highwayman Dave Fisher

Dave Fisher, one of five college freshmen to form the folk group, The Highwaymen, in 1958 has died. The 69 year old died of a rare bone marrow disorder called myelofibrosis. The Highwaymen are best known for their 1961 No. 1 song, ” Michael Row the Boat Ashore.” They also had a resurgence in the 1990’s, when they sued Willie Nelson and a group of other country superstars  who were touring under the name the “Highwaymen”. As part of the settlement, the original group was offered the chance to open for the group of superstars, and they jumped at the chance to start singing again.

Myelofibrosis is a progressive, chronic disease in which the bone marrow (see below) is replaced by fibrous tissue (scar tissue).  As a result, the body starts making blood  in organs such as the liver and the spleen, instead of in the bone marrow. This causes these organs to swell.

Although myelofibrosis can occur at any age, it typically develops after the age of 50.The cause of myelofibrosis  is unknown at the current time.

Symptoms include:

  • Abdominal fullness related to an enlarged spleen
  • Bone pain
  • Bruising
  • Easy bleeding
  • Fatigue
  • Increased susceptibility to infection
  • Pallor
  • Shortness of breath while doing physical work

In most cases, myelofibrosis gets progressively worse leading to sever anemia (low blood count) and bleeding complications from low platelet counts. Some people with myelofibrosis eventually develop acute myelogenous leukemia, a type of blood and bone marrow cancer that progresses rapidly. Treatment is aimed at relieving signs and symptoms and may include medications, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.

A Quick Primer on Bone Marrow:

Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside some of the bones, such as the hip and thigh bones. It contains immature cells, called stem cells. The stem cells can develop into the red blood cells that carry oxygen through your body, the white blood cells that fight infections, and the platelets that help with blood clotting.

There are two types of bone marrow: red marrow consisting mainly of blood forming cells and yellow marrow consisting mainly of fat cells. Red blood cells, platelets  and most white blood cells arise in red marrow. Both types of bone marrow contain numerous blood vessels and capillaries.

At birth, all bone marrow is red. With age, more and more of it is converted to the yellow type. About half of adult bone marrow is red. Red marrow is found mainly in the flat bones, such as the hip bone, breast bone, skull, ribs, vertebrae and shoulder blades, and in the cancellous (“spongy”) material at the widening ends of the long bones such as the femur(thigh bone) and humerus (upper arm bone). Yellow marrow is found in the hollow interior of the middle portion of long bones.

For more information:

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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