May 16th, 2002 was a dark day for family, friends and fans of singer, songwriter, musician James Dewar. Little was known publicly of the health matters that caused Jimmy's early retirement from music. Details of his condition had been kept quite private particularly when it came to the media. During interviews, Robin Trower would simply say that Jimmy was suffering from health issues or something to that effect. Robin is discrete by nature but the reality is, no one knew what caused Jimmy’s declining health and eventual death. Not until now.
In 1986, 42 year old James Dewar sought medical treatment for an abscess. This is not at all uncommon, people all over the world have such things treated in without incident. An abscess along with it’s treatment and/or removal is not life-threatening by nature.
Jimmy was admitted to the hospital for what would be described as a minor surgical procedure. He was placed under general anesthesia for what was reported to be an uneventful surgery and was released following a brief period of recovery.
Upon his return home from the hospital, Jimmy’s wife Mattie remarked immediately that, Jimmy did not look well. Aside from not looking well, he began doing odd things that would indicate he was not always thinking clearly. Youngest daughter Lisa recalls being 16 years old at the time and taking these signs lightly with the expectation he would make a full recovery. Sadly, he deteriorated both physically and mentally at an alarming rate.
After six difficult years of caring for her husband, the stress had become too much for Mattie. In 1992 she and the Dewar children Lisa, Wendy, Laura and young Jim made the emotional decision to admit Jimmy to Dykebar Hospital as a permanent resident. Dykebar is a facility that caters to patients needing constant care without hope of recovery.
While the diagnosis was not entirely clear, Jimmy’s symptoms seemed to most closely resemble those of a stroke victim. He continued to suffer many such small strokes over the years following his 1986 surgery.
Initially, the Dewar family and others close to Jimmy, suspected that (during his surgery), the anesthesiologist may have made an error causing injury to Jimmy's brain. The hospital’s conduct was a bit secretive and that only fueled suspicions of malpractice. With nothing of substance in hand, the family had no grounds to bring suit. Fans, pundits and others (not close to the matter) often took the liberty of filling in the informational void with their own fiction. It was sometimes said that surely he abused drugs or drank himself to death. Most seemed to conclude that the life of a rockstar is short by nature and that hard living shortened his lifespan. The truth was nothing of the sort and only discovered some forty years after after the onset.
In 2013 Jimmy’s middle daughter (Wendy) needed medical treatment requiring that she undergo general anesthesia. Alarmingly, Wendy emerged from her surgery exhibiting some of the same symptoms as her dad some 37 years prior. Fortunately for Wendy, all these years of medical advancement (since the onset of her dad's illness) have allowed doctors to diagnose her condition.
A little-known genetic disorder called Cadasil ("Cerebral Autosomal-Dominant Arteriopathy with Subcortical Infarcts and Leukoencephalopathy”) causes precisely these stroke events in those carrying a mutated gene referred to as "Notch 3". Cadasil causes the small to medium sized arteries in the brain to suffer a thickening of the walls that eventually starves blood flow to the brain causing strokes and dementia. The average age of those exhibiting symptoms is 46. Jimmy was 42 and Wendy was 45. It was not until 2000 that a test was developed to identify the disease thus Jimmy’s condition was destined to go many years undiagnosed. The suspicion that general anesthesia may contribute to the onset of these symptoms is unsubstantiated at this point as there is much to learn about the rare but devastating disease. It does seem noteworthy that the strokes and subsequent symptoms appeared immediately upon undergoing general anesthesia in both Jimmy's case and Wendy's case. Sadly, in 2014, Cadasil is both incurable and untreatable. The medical community is beginning to show some interest in researching Cadasil, it's treatment and cure. While this is good news, one should not get their hopes too high (just yet). Cadasil is extremely rare. Funding and mobilization to treat any disease is prioritized largely by global occurrence and it's impact upon the masses. Rare diseases such as this one fall low on the scale of urgency when compared to the many diseases that afflict large parts of the world’s population. Wendy’s condition is reported to be more promising than her dad’s however there is a degree of “wait and see” associated with the progression of Cadasil. Of course we wish her and the entire Dewar family the very best in health and well-being.
So, what does this all mean to us looking back upon the life and death of James "Jimmy" Dewar? It means that nature took its course. To date, nothing could have been done to change the outcome. With or without an accurate diagnosis of Cadasil in 1986 (or today) Jimmy’s fate was sealed. I suppose we can put to rest our fears of medical malpractice being to blame. The truth is freeing if only to this extent.
Jimmy, we love you and we miss you. Your memory lives on through your recordings, the lives of your three beautiful daughters, grandchildren, fans and the archives contained here at www.JimmyDewar.com. Thank you for all of your magnificent contributions during your brief time here and may we meet again.