Bret Michaels is the lead vocalist of the metal-band Poison that has sold more than 45 million records , including their most famous song, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”. He has also written, directed, and appeared in several TV shows and movies such as “A Letter from Death Row”. He has done all this in spite of an extensive medical history of juvenile diabetes, bleeding into his brain, a clot in his brain from a hole in his heart, kidney stones and appendicitis.
Stage Musicians Live a Hard Life
He was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1963. At age six he was diagnosed with the type of diabetes that requires insulin injections every day because his pancreas made no insulin. In 1983, at age 20, he formed the band Paris with drummer Rikki Rockett, bass player Bobby Dall and Matt Smith in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. In 1984, they moved to Los Angeles, changed their name to “Poison” and replaced Matt Smith with C.C. DeVille. Their first album, “Look What the Cat Dragged In,” sold well after they made a video from one of the songs, “Talk Dirty to Me”. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the band played everywhere and sold lots of records.
Successful bands have an extremely hard life of performing most nights, traveling during the days and sleeping in different hotel rooms night after night. As is the case in many popular bands, some of the Poison members used drugs. In 1987, while the band was playing at Madison Square Garden, Michaels passed out during the performance, and news reports claimed it was from drug use. He had actually forgotten to eat after taking his usual insulin injection, so he suffered insulin shock, passing out from low blood sugar. As a result of the media stories, he decided to go public with his condition and became a spokesperson and fundraiser for juvenile diabetes.
During their 1991 “Flesh and Blood” world tour, Michaels and C.C. DeVille had a fist fight and DeVille quit the band. A few years after that, Michaels almost died when he crashed his Ferrari into a telephone pole. He broke his ribs and nose and knocked out several teeth. In his forties, he did some touring by himself and put out very successful solo albums, served as a judge for singing competitions on reality television, and did a lot of media appearances. He is so dedicated to his fans and performing that many times he would go from the concert hall to a medical crisis that required hospitalization, then back to the concert hall, and then another crisis would send him back to the hospital.
An Exceptionally Bad Year
• April 12, 2010, he was rushed to the hospital and had his appendix removed.
• On April 21, he was rushed to the hospital after passing out from an “excruciating” headache. He almost died from a massive subarachnoid hemorrhage into his brain. He sued CBS and the Tony Awards because he claimed that the brain hemorrhage was caused by a descending set hitting him on the head and breaking his nose the previous year. The case was settled out of court.
• On April 28, he woke up and was unable to speak. He had had a stroke, but he was so dedicated to performing with his band that on May 5, he was released from the hospital to give a concert.
• On May 20, he was readmitted to the hospital for loss of feeling on the left side of his body. He had had a mini-stroke. He was born with a patent foramen ovale, a hole between the left and right sides of his heart that did not close normally after birth. All humans have this hole in their hearts when they are inside the womb. That hole allows the blood to bypass the lungs because you cannot breathe when you are in the womb in a sac full of fluid. However, as soon as you are born, the hole is supposed to close. This allows blood to go through the lungs and you start to breathe. Twenty percent of people do not have the hole close and most do fine. However, when blood goes through your lungs, the lungs act as a filter to prevent clots from passing to your arteries. People who have open holes between the left and right sides of their hearts can have a clot go through the hole between the left and right heart, and bypass the lungs to pass directly into an artery leading to the brain to cause a stroke.
• In January 2011, surgeons closed the hole in his heart to prevent a future stroke.
On December 20, 2010, he proposed to singer Kristi Gibson on the finale of his reality TV show, “Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It”. They had had an off-and-on-again relationship for 16 years and had two daughters. She helped him through his emergency appendectomy, his near-fatal brain hemorrhage and stroke. However, in July 2012 he announced that they had separated and would not get married.
More Medical Crises
On May 30, 2014, he passed out during a concert at the Palace Theater in Manchester NH and
was rushed off the stage. Again, taking insulin without eating had caused a low blood sugar level that deprived his brain of its main source of energy.
From October 30 to November 13, 2014, he was hospitalized six times in two weeks for kidney stones, which is probably one of the most painful conditions known to man. He was such a trooper that he left the hospital each time with pain medications to perform his next show. Eventually two stents were placed in his urinary tubes to keep the passageways open so that he could urinate. Symptoms of a kidney stone include severe back pain, blood in urine, fever and chills, vomiting, cloudy urine, and burning during urination. Most kidney stones pass out of the body, and drinking three or more quarts of water a day can help you get rid of stones. However, when a stone becomes too big to pass, it causes horrendous pain.
Breakthroughs for Juvenile Diabetes
Right now there is no known cure for juvenile (Type 1) diabetes, but there are exciting potential breakthroughs on the horizon.
• Juvenile diabetes is thought to be an autoimmune disease, which means that a person’s immunity attacks and destroys the pancreatic beta cells that make insulin. Giving Interleukin-35, an immune chemical that blocks inflammation, can stop the immune reaction and may be able to cure diabetes (Sci. Rep. 5, Published online 30 July 2015).
• Injection of stem cells can force the body to make billions of human insulin-producing beta cells to replace the ones that were destroyed by a person’s own immunity (Cell, October 9, 2014).
• A natural body hormone called alpha-1 antitrypsin blocks inflammation, the overactive immunity that attacks a person’s pancreas. This is readily available today since more than twenty years ago the Food and Drug Administration approved alpha-1 antitrypsin to treat people who genetically lack the ability to a make this hormone. It appears to be safe; the only reported serious side effect so far is a high blood sugar level. It is very expensive and can cost several thousand dollars for the eight-session treatment (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, April 2014).
• TNF alpha can destroy the cells that attack and kill the beta cells of the pancreas that make insulin. A drug called Complete Freund’s Adjuvant (CFA) is the same as a prescription drug for humans called BCG that raises TNF alpha levels and it may destroy the cells that damage the pancreas (Journal of Clinical Investigation. July 2001).
Lessons from This Story
• Type 1 diabetics make no insulin so they must take insulin regularly. After taking insulin they have to eat. If they do not eat enough, they can suffer low blood sugar levels that can cause them to pass out.
• A sudden loss of feeling on one side of the body is usually caused by a stroke that requires immediate medical attention.
• Sudden and worsening belly pain can be caused by an infected appendix. A test to make you suspicious that you may have a medical emergency is called “rebound”. Have a person press his hand slowly and deeply in your belly and then suddenly releases his hand. If it hurts when he lets go, you should consult a doctor immediately. You could have something in your belly that is about to burst.
• Incredible pain in your back or belly can be caused by a kidney stone. Get help immediately to alleviate the pain.
• Some strokes are caused by a hole in the heart that was supposed to close at birth.
Closing the hole can prevent another stroke.
• Bret Michaels is a tough and dedicated musician who has not let serious medical problems interfere with the incredible pressure and time it takes to be a much sought-after performer. Today he is still touring and giving sold-out concerts in spite of his numerous medical issues.
March 15, 1963 – present