Without a net: Brown Bird's Lamb fights leukemia


The past month has been unimaginably tough for Dave Lamb and his fiance MorganEve Swain, who make up Warren's own Brown Bird, one of the biggest acts to come out of the Rhode Island music scene in years.

As touring musicians versed in living life on the road, the Water Street couple are used to getting by with very little, going all in and hoping for the best. But they never expected to find themselves in their current dilemma. If not for the help of thousands of friends, most of whom they've never met, they don't know how they'd be able to cope with Dave's recent diagnosis of leukemia.

While on tour in Houston, Texas earlier this spring, Dave, 35, started feeling run-down. Pale, with stamina so low he had trouble getting through songs, he was stuck in a cycle of fatigue and flu-like symptoms that would crop up, go away with antibiotics, and then come back after he got off them.

He was ultimately admitted into a hospital where he was given several blood transfusions, though doctors couldn't pinpoint the exact problem.

The illness presented an excruciating decision. Life on the road can be tenuous, and when musicians don't play they don't earn money. Health insurance is a luxury few can afford, and that was the couple's situation as they found themselves nearly broke, sick and with few options, 1,800 miles from home.

Even as medical bills started to reach $40,000 and ultimately beyond, Brown Bird made the tough choice to cancel the rest of their tour and head home to Rhode Island. They returned home in late May and last week got an official diagnosis. Immediately, doctors started Dave on chemotherapy, and he is currently admitted at Rhode Island Hospital, just finishing up his first round.

"It's very stressful," MorganEve said Monday. "At this point, he's very strong, and he's one of the most positive people I've ever met. It seems like the longer this goes on, the more used to it I'm becoming. But it's something that you're never prepared for."

A little help from friends

It's also something they won't have to fight alone.

MorganEve said one of the couple's first reactions in Texas, when Dave's health declined, was of panic. Without shows and merchandise sales to bring in money, they had no idea what to do and barely had enough to get home.

As the bills began to mount, the couple took to the Internet and humbly asked fans for help as they fought what was then still an undiagnosed disease.

Help quickly poured in from friends, relatives, and complete strangers. Donations came from Europe, the Far East, every corner of the United States. The numbers were staggering, and it took just a few days to raise $40,000 as bills skyrocketed past $60,000 and beyond.

One of the first things the couple did with the funds was purchase health insurance through Brown Bird, which is technically a business; they are fortunate that Rhode Island does not deny health insurance to those with pre-existing, potential catastrophic conditions.

Returning home, the donations have continued, and so has an outpouring of support and love from their friends in the music community and beyond. They'll need it, MorganEve said, as they continue to face an uncertain future with virtually no income.

Through running back and forth from the hospital, trying to keep track of things at home and be by her partner's side has been trying — "I have bursts of spontaneously breaking out in tears every now and then," she said — the support from friends known and unknown has been nearly unbelievable, she said.

"It's more than we ever expected or imagined," she said. "It's been humbling."

Others aren't surprised. Warren resident Joe Fletcher, one of Brown Bird's closest friends, said that if anyone deserves a helping hand, it's Dave Lamb.

He has "touched a lot of lives with his music and his personality," said Mr. Fletcher, who fronts Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons.

"He's a real, honest and decent man. That comes through in his music and on stage. It's not surprising that people rally around a person like that when something horrible like this happens."

Like others, Mr. Fletcher said he'll do whatever he can to help his friends fight the disease. Last week, he and a few musician friends played a benefit concert for Brown Bird at the Wooden Midshipman on Water Street, and it drew a packed house. More benefits are planned — this Friday at the Columbus Theatre in Providence, later this month at the Brighton Music Hall in Boston, and another upcoming in Bangor, Maine, where Dave Lamb lived before moving to Warren (see sidebar to see what you can do to help).

"I get several e-mails and phone calls a day asking me to be a part of benefits," Mr. Fletcher said. "I'll do whatever I can."

Ripple effect

Supporting Brown Bird while Dave undergoes treatment doesn't just help him, but also directly benefits MorganEve, Mr. Fletcher said.

"What people don't realize is that nine times out of 10, the spouse is able to lead a somewhat normal life" after a potentially life-threatening diagnosis, he said. "That's not the case with them. Her livelihood is directly tied to his."

Back at their Water Street home, MorganEve said she's trying to stay positive. Dave is nearing the end of his first week of chemo, she said, though doctors don't know yet whether he'll be released soon.

"Because he's so young and (otherwise) healthy, they're giving him a really high dose to try to pack a punch," she said.

The hope is that once the round ends he'll be able to start producing healthy blood cells, and doctors will give him a biopsy in a few days to see how he's doing.

"He's the most positive person I know," she said.

Both are incredibly humbled by the support they've received so far, she said. And even those without the means to help can make a difference:

"Spreading the word about (Dave's) situation is a huge help," she said. "Still, we totally understand that not everybody has money to spare, even if it's five bucks. But if people want to do something, donating blood is a huge thing, that and registering to be bone marrow donors."

"That can save a life."

Want to help? Here's how

Here's what you can do to help Dave Lamb and the thousands of others who are diagnosed with the disease every year:

Attend a benefit concert

A benefit for Brown Bird will be held this Friday, June 7, at the Columbus Theatre in Providence. Joe Fletcher and the Wrong Reasons will play, as will JP Harris from Nashville, TN and Smith & Weeden of Providence. Tickets are $15, and there will also be a silent auction. See the Columbus Theatre website for tickets, or if you want to donate art or other items to the auction, contact James Joiner at james@jjamesjoiner.com. Upcoming benefits are being planned for the Brighton Music Hall in Boston (Thursday, June 27) and the Buoy Gallery in Bangor, Maine.

 Visit the Brown Bird page

Learn more about Brown Bird and the band's music, as well as follow along with Dave Lamb's fight, here.

Donate blood

Contact the Rhode Island Blood Center here.

Become a bone marrow donor

Becoming a registered bone marrow donor is quick and painless. Find out about the process at the National Marrow Donor Program website.


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.