Hanson back on tour after health scare
Posted by Mary Colurso October 19, 2007 5:00 AM
Categories: Columns, Music

Isaac Hanson has slipped from the clutches of screaming girls. He has endured critical derision for peppy pop songs such as "MMMBop." He emerged, unscathed, when he and his brothers were lampooned as guest stars on "Saturday Night Live."

Now, it seems, Hanson has escaped a brush with death.

That might be an overly dramatic way to put it, but the 26-year-old musician recently survived a pulmonary embolism -- a potentially lethal blood clot that traveled from his right arm to his lungs.
It happened on Oct. 2 at the House of Blues in Dallas, where Hanson was performing with band members Taylor, 24, and Zachary, 21, on their latest tour.

Hanson didn't stop the show -- a longtime guitarist, he's used to an achy shoulder once in a while -- but pushed the panic button after his arm became discolored and swollen.

Doctors at Baylor University Medical Center discovered the clot and removed it a day later. It might have stopped his heart, if Hanson had ignored the discomfort and waited until he could seek treatment in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla.

"I've dodged the bullet a few times in my life," Hanson says during a phone interview. "I'm looking forward to not dodging the bullet anymore."

He's taking blood thinners and being careful for the duration of the tour, which stops in Birmingham on Monday at the WorkPlay theater. Hanson says he's determined to be on stage for all band dates scheduled through November, spreading the word about the group's latest CD, "The Walk."

Nevertheless, he faces another surgery at the end of the year, to get rid of a rib that's pressing against one of his veins, contributing to a condition called thoracic outlet syndrome.

Hanson says it's a compression of the blood vessels that can be caused or worsened by repetitive motion, such as playing baseball, tennis or the guitar. Blame his workaholic tendencies, then, along with an unfortunate incident in 2003 at a Chicago hotel.

"I forced myself into an elevator," Hanson says. "Sensors were not responding, so I squeezed my way in and opened the doors. I'm pretty sure that's what pinched the vein in the past."

Regret about his action isn't useful, so Hanson matter-of-factly refuses to dwell on it. Instead, he's been researching thoracic outlet syndrome and mentally preparing himself for the rib removal, which is likely to happen in December.

"Thank God, this is not a worst-case situation," he says. "In 40 percent of cases, people can't use their arm again. I'm a lucky guy and will deal with it for the next 12 months."

Recovery and rehab probably will take six to eight weeks after the next surgery, Hanson estimates, and aftereffects will linger into 2008. However, he's confident about healing with the help of his wife, Nikki, and their 6-month-old son, Everett.

Family makes for good medicine, he says, and Hanson expresses amazement at the outpouring of support he's received from the public.

"I've never experienced such goodwill, so much positive feedback," he says. "I've had messages from everywhere, from close friends to fans to everyone else. A lot of folks are praying for me, and that's a really nice feeling. I don't think you can underestimate the power of that."

Hanson obligingly rattles off details about his medications, which include Coumadin, and talks about the technology that cleared his clot: AngioJet, or "a Pac-Man machine with a vacuum." Hanson also had angioplasty to expand his vein to what he describes as "prime size."

He's used to living in the spotlight -- Hanson says his career started at age 11 -- and accepts its glare as part of his celebrity status, even during a health crisis. Still, if he had his druthers, Hanson would focus media attention on the band and its latest disc, which is linked to a philanthropic project to ease poverty and illness in Africa.

All three Hansons donated proceeds of their song "Great Divide" to AIDS relief and they're taking one-mile walks with fans, going barefoot before each concert on the tour. These symbolic treks support TOMS Shoes, a company that donates footwear to children in South Africa.

"We were inspired to go to Africa and learn about the issues," Hanson says. "We found an incredible amount of optimism and hope there. We realized that you can't wait for the perfect solution. You have to get in there and do something."

In the two weeks after his blood-clot surgery, Hanson has been conserving his energy, icing his arm and wearing TOMS shoes on some of the walks to avoid cuts. But he's determined to keep Hanson the band, and Hanson the man, moving ahead at full strength.

"I believe there are lots of things I want to do in my life," he says. "There's a lot more life to be lived, concerts to do, fans to meet and years to spend with my wife and son."