“San Francisco” Singer Scott McKenzie Dies of Guillain-Barré Syndrome

If you’re going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

It became an anthem for the hippie generation. Part of the soundtrack for the 1967 “Summer of Love.”

It was announced yesterday, that it’s singer/songwriter, Scott McKenzie is dead. He died August 18th at the age of 73 from Guilain-Barré Syndrome. McKenzie had been battling the disease on and off over the past 2 years.

His website stated:

It is with much sadness that we report the passing of Scott McKenzie in LA on 18th August, 2012. Scott had been very ill recently and passed away in his home after two weeks in hospital.

As a songwriter, McKenzie found fame for writing the No. 1 hitting 1988 tune Kokomo, for The Beach Boys. He also toured with the Mamas and the Papas.

What is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillian-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a disease where the body’s immune system turns against the nervous system. Specifically, the immune system attacks the coating around nerve cells (myelin) that allows them to transmit messages from the brain to the rest of the body.

It is unknown what causes GBS, but it is frequently preceded by a relatively mild viral illness, which in some way, may trigger the immune system to react in an abnormal way.

Initial symptoms include muscle weakness and tingling in the legs. Weakness can progress up the body, and in severe cases, can cause complete paralysis. If the paralysis includes the breathing muscles, this is a medical emergency, and a patient must be put on a respirator.

Fortunately, the process is usually self-limited, and with support, the symptoms gradually resolve, although some mild weakness may remain.

Although there is no known cure for GBS, there are a couple of treatments that may lessen the symptoms or clear them up more quickly.

One of these is called  plasmapheresis. The blood is removed from the body, filtered to remove harmful autoantibodies, and returned to the body).

The other is called high dose immunoglobulin therapy, where a patient receives an injection of  healthy antibodies pooled from a large number of donors. These antibodies block the harmful antibodies of GBS.

However, the most critical part of treatment in all GBS patients is providing supportive care  to keep the body functioning during the illness.

Guillain-Barré syndrome can be a devastating disorder because of its sudden and unexpected onset. Most people reach the stage of greatest weakness within the first 2 weeks after symptoms appear, and by the third week of the illness 90 percent of all patients are at their weakest. The recovery period may be as little as a few weeks or as long as a few years. About 30 percent of those with Guillain-Barré still have a residual weakness after 3 years. About 3 percent may suffer a relapse of muscle weakness and tingling sensations many years after the initial attack.

For more information click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on the subject.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.


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