Willie Nelson Hopes Stem Cell Surgery Helps with Continued Lung Issues
In mid October, country legend Willie Nelson unexpectedly canceled a few upcoming concert dates in Virginia and Pennsylvania due to an undisclosed medical issue. At 82-years-old, any time there’s news of a medical issue with Willie, it can be a cause for concern. Now the medical issue has been revealed.
Willie Nelson took time off from touring to have a new breakthrough regenerative stem cell procedure conducted. The hope is it will keep the 82-year-old singing and performing for years to come.
“It was a stem-cell operation. It’s supposed to help the lungs,” Willie told The Washington Post late last week. “Over the years I’ve smoked a lot of cigarettes, and I’ve had emphysema and pneumonia four or five times, so my lungs were really screwed up, and I had heard that this stem-cell operation would be good for them. So I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna try it out.’ But I’m still so sore that I can’t say that it was a success. I’ll have to wait until all the soreness goes away.”
Asked if it hurts to sing, Willie responded, “I’ll let you know. [Laughs.] I think I’ll be able to sing. The only thing that worries me more than anything is carrying my guitar, because they did the operation right in my stomach. But I think I’ll be all right . . . I don’t do time off very well. But I’m really pissed that I’ve been laid up here the past couple of weeks with this operation, because I need to be working.”
According to the Lung Institute, stem cell treatment can be effective for individuals suffering from issues such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and pulmonary fibrosis. Many times the procedure is conducted by harvesting stem cells from the patient’s own body—sometimes fat tissue, bone marrow, or sometimes the patient’s own blood depending on the condition and health history of the patient. Then the stem cells are separated from the other body tissue and re-introduced into the lungs, sometimes intravenously or through a nebulizer or other means, with the hope of helping to regenerate damaged lung tissue.
Since stem cells can continuously regenerate, lung function can improve following the treatment. Such treatments are still considered experimental and in the research phase, but the American Lung Association says it “supports the responsible pursuit of research involving the use of human stem cells” to “further our understanding of fundamental lung biology and to develop cell-based therapies to treat lung disease.”
Willie Nelson is not only known for being a country star, but also for being a proponent of marijuana use. Though marijuana is significantly less harmful to the lungs than cigarettes, prolonged exposure can slightly increase the risk for lung diseases.
In Willie Nelson’s autobiography with Bud Shrake, the singer proclaims, “There’ been a lot of talk about marijuana being harmless, bit I think it’s a lot more dangerous to the lungs than most dope smokers realize. Especially the strong marijuana that’s around these days. Each year it seems to get a little stronger. The wise course is to not abuse it. Your lungs are not really supposed to breathe anything but oxygen—pure, fresh air.”
More recently, Nelson has been a proponent of using a nebulizer for marijuana consumption, especially for people experiencing lung issues. An extensive 2013 study on the use of marijuana and lung disease found:
Regular smoking of marijuana by itself causes visible and microscopic injury to the large airways that is consistently associated with an increased likelihood of symptoms of chronic bronchitis. On the other hand, habitual use of marijuana alone does not appear to lead to significant abnormalities in lung function . . . except for possible increases in lung volumes and modest increases in airway resistance of unclear clinical significance. Therefore, no clear link to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has been established. Although marijuana smoke contains a number of carcinogens . . . findings from a limited number of well-designed epidemiological studies do not suggest an increased risk for the development of either lung or upper airway cancer from light or moderate use, although evidence is mixed concerning possible carcinogenic risks of heavy, long-term use.
Willie also spoke in his biography about his heavy habit of cigarette smoking earlier in his life.
“I smoked three to five packs a day . . . I started smoking so much I couldn’t enjoy a cigarette with my meal because I’d already smoked a pack beforehand. My throat burned and my lungs were sore. I smoked for years after I had stopped enjoying it. I quit smoking a hundred times before the day I finally took a deep inhale and it hurt my lungs so bad I knew at that instant I would never smoke a cigarette again.”
During recent Willie Nelson live performances, it’s clear the aging singer is losing a bit of his lung capacity, and is having difficulty singing. Though Willie otherwise appears to be in great health physically and mentally, especially for an 82-year-old, his lungs have been his one recurring medical issue. Wednesday evening (11-18), Willie Nelson became the only country music recipient of the Gershwin Prize from the Library of Congress. He was clearly breathy in his performances, but he is still likely recovering from the surgery. With the new stem cell procedure, hopefully Willie can be put on the right track and continue to entertain audiences for years to come.
November 19, 2015 @ 8:00 pm
Take some time off Willie
November 19, 2015 @ 8:10 pm
“Though marijuana is significantly less harmful to the lungs and (sic) cigarettes…”
From what I’ve read, this is not true. People tend to smoke far less marijuana than they tend to smoke cigarettes. But on a one to one basis, marijuana is actually worse for your lungs. People hold pot smoke in longer, and also, unless you’re a real hoss, most cigarettes are filtered, and take out a good bit of tar, while a lot of marijuana consumed is not….
November 19, 2015 @ 8:42 pm
That’s why I cited the governmental study. I’m no doctor. I see people all the time claiming smoking marijuana is good for your lungs. The study says marijuana can contribute to lung issues, but is not as bad as cigarette smoke,
November 20, 2015 @ 8:26 am
Let’s not make this about marijuana… He said he smoked 5 packs of cigarettes a day! That is way more than anyone (even Willie) would consume of marijuana. Not to mention, all the added chemicals the tabaco industry jams in those things to keep the people addicted. I’d be willing to bet over 90% of his lung related health problems are from the everyday air he has been breathing over the last 80+ years and his cigarette habit. Long live Willie!
November 20, 2015 @ 9:23 am
Anticipating folks bringing up marijuana use as a potential cause of Willie’s lung issues, I presented both sides of the story, including a study that says marijuana is not thought to contribute significantly to lung disease (though it could have a small factor), as well as Willie talking about how much he used to smoke cigarettes. Hopefully folks can use all of that information to come to their own conclusions.
November 20, 2015 @ 9:40 am
February 11, 2019 @ 10:55 am
I have read that marijuana contains anti cancer properties. Hence the derived chd oil Rick Simpson oil. Of course weed isnt great ( look at teh bongs we scrape) , but it has counter active ingredients to fight as well as cause cancer. Cigarettes are filled with awful ingredients, nothing good contained in them.
November 19, 2015 @ 8:12 pm
This fella will die on the road with a guitar in his lap or on the stage. Probably the way he wants it. What a career!
November 19, 2015 @ 8:22 pm
Take care of your self Willie. We need ya!
November 19, 2015 @ 9:08 pm
I hope Willie Nelson finds relief from this therapy … I really do … But just a warning … I know people who have done this treatment (though at another facility)… There is no evidence that this treatment is effective …
Here’s an article from Tampa Bay Times: http://www.tampabay.com/news/health/tampa-stem-cell-clinic-is-long-on-promises-not-evidence/2215932
And the procedure is not always safe … While there is no reports of any harm at the Lung Institute, another stem cell physician, discussed in the article, has had severe complications.
Just saying be careful y’all … Not everything you read about is necessarily correct
November 19, 2015 @ 9:17 pm
For the record, we don’t know where or who performed Willie’s stem cell surgery, and because of doctor/patient privileged, we won’t know unless Willie chooses to divulge that information. I cited the information from the Lung Institute as representative of how these procedures are generally done.
November 24, 2015 @ 10:26 am
I am interested in the stem cell research, I have COPD and emphysema and would like to know more when you know more..!!! I smoke many cigarettes and a lot of marijuana in my day, but have not somked a cigarette in 23yrs, or marijuana in in about 20…Thanks Perry
November 19, 2015 @ 9:35 pm
Hope this proves successful ultimately. I feel strongly for Nelson and hope his wish is ensured.
November 19, 2015 @ 10:07 pm
Hoping he recovers soon and can get back on the road, doing his thing. He’s one I’ve always hoped I could see in concert.
November 20, 2015 @ 4:16 am
I saw Willie perform right after the surgery and I thought he sounded amazing.
Bigfoot is Real (AKA Progressive Fascist Rat)
November 20, 2015 @ 7:40 am
I am always amazed when I read about anybody smoking that many cigarettes a day. (Waylon reportedly smoked up to six, yes SIX packs of cigarettes a day!) The fact that Willie isn’t dead already probably indicates that he has an amazing constitution and as you point out is in great shape for an 82 year old.
Willie was on Larry King a few years ago and spoke about how he had quit smoking weed and was using a vaporizer to avoid the downsides of smoke.
November 20, 2015 @ 7:50 am
I’ve always been amazed by how many cigarettes some people could smoke. I read once that John Mellencamp used to smoke five packs a day and John Wayne, before his lung removal smoked six packs a day. I had a meeting with a guy in his office once, and he was actually lighting one off the other. In 45 minutes, I bet he smoked at least 6 cigarettes. I have a friend whose mother in law is constantly badgering him to quit smoking. He smokes about 3 packs of cigarettes a week, most of these on Friday or Saturday night. 30 years ago he wouldn’t even have been considered a smoker.
November 20, 2015 @ 8:11 am
Pick out the seeds and stem cell’s, Willie!
Bigfoot is Real (AKA Progressive Fascist Rat)
November 20, 2015 @ 9:07 am
…and I’m down to seeds and stem cells again, too… (apologies to Bill Kirchen of Commander Cody)
November 20, 2015 @ 8:11 am
Idiot, needs to stop smoking weed.
I know a doctor and he sees patients all the time who say “oh I have a bad repetitive cough” and “oh I’m depressed”, blah blah blah, and they all smoke weed.
November 20, 2015 @ 8:13 am
November 20, 2015 @ 9:59 am
I am a representative for the Lung Institute and wish Willie Nelson the best in his fight against lung disease. We have seen much success in treating people with lung disease using stem cell therapy, and 70% of our patients report an improved quality of life. We understand that there is still no cure for lung disease, and our goal is to bridge the gap to improve people”™s quality of life from now until that cure has been discovered. We welcome any questions that you may have, as we understand that this is a relatively new procedure and there is a lot of misinformation out there and many questions. Please feel free to email email@example.com and we”™d be happy to talk with you.
November 20, 2015 @ 11:34 am
All these people who are calling Willie an idiot for smoking weed:
The guy’s 82. He’s been healthy and productive for almost all of those years and his mind is still sharp.
I’m sure if I smoked marijuana like he does, it would kill me or I’d be a total mess. But it’s worked for him. Willie smoked it on the roof of the White House. He can die today and he’s a testament to the positives of marijuana.
Pamela. Vallance NELSON
November 28, 2015 @ 4:07 am
Hi Willy, heres hoping you are well.MY thoughts and prayers are with you after the surgery.Will be hoping to get to Texas to see you o the 4th July.Seen you twice in Brisbane a few years ago.Cant wait to see you again.Oh I wonder if we are related..My dads name is Willy, brother Willy and uncle Bobby, wouldn’t that be the best.But the only thing I’d love is to have a pic taken with you…..Love to you Willy.get well.
December 10, 2015 @ 3:42 pm
This could be the ultimate breakthrough we been waiting for. A grand celebrity like Willie Nelson having this stemcell therapy procedure done. This could be the proof it really works. We are desperately trying to get the funds for my husband who has stage 4 emphezema done. Weve almost reached our goal of 5500.00 to have the bloodstem therapy done. We just have alittle ways to go yet. So please Willie keep us informed on your ongoing progress. We wish you the best, and send our love and prayers your way.
February 1, 2016 @ 11:17 am
Good luck to you Willie! There are a lot of us with lung desease who are hoping for a cure or a treatment, if you could lend your name and support that would be great
March 16, 2016 @ 5:52 pm
Willie I’m going to Mayo at Rochester Min. for stem cell replacement. I have seen you preform in Cedar Falls Iowa. I enjoyed your show. I dress up and preform at Care centers for the people with my guitar and I feel like you Willie. God bless you Willie and with God and fan’s prayers you will get better.
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