George Visger: How I’ve Managed to Survive So Far

Jul 18, 2010

Dave,

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I recently returned from my second exam at Dr. Amen’s clinic on July 10, 2010. My first exam was conducted over 3 days in October of 2009. The October exam was much more thorough than the standard NFL exam due to the fact I have survived 8 (or 9, I’ve lost track) NFL-caused emergency VP Shunt brain surgeries.

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I felt it imperative to relay my updated story and exam results and reach out to all our NFL brothers and their families who may unknowingly be fighting the same demons my family and I have fought the last 29 years since my first NFL-caused emergency brain surgery.

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Early in my second season with the 49′ers in 1981, I began experiencing major headaches, projectile vomiting and loss of vision and hearing each night. This started a few weeks after a knee surgery. I approached Dr. Fred Behling, the orthopedic surgeon who did my first surgery about my symptoms, and was told it was high blood pressure and prescribed high blood pressure meds (diuretics). Keep in mind I was a 22-year old, 6′-5″ 259-lb professional athlete in the prime of my life and not one you would suspect to have high blood pressure, but what did I know?

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2 ½ weeks later, as my symptoms got progressively worse, I suffered focal-point paralysis of my right arm during my nightly projectile vomiting, loss of vision, loss of hearing episode. I approached Dr. Behling in the locker room the next day and was asked, “What now?” When I told him in no uncertain terms my arm went paralyzed the night before, he rolled his eyes, pulled out his little light and said, “Let’s see.” One look in my eye and he said, “Oh my God, your brain is hemorrhaging.” Long story short, he told me to go home, lay down and drive myself to Palo Alto that afternoon to see a neurologist at Stanford Hospital. Years later, I look back on this and realized it was probably in order for Behling and the team brass to have time to all get their stories straight as they realized they screwed up.

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My trip to Stanford that afternoon ended up with me undergoing emergency VP Shunt brain surgery immediately. (They drilled a hole in my skull, ran a tube into the ventricles in the middle of my brain, used a “shunt tunneler” to run a tube under my skin to the back of my head, installed a VP Shunt pressure valve, and ran a drain tube with the “tunneler” from the valve into my abdomen.)

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During 14 days in intensive care at Stanford Hospital, the only person from the 49′ers organization to visit was Bill Walsh’s secretary (I didn’t even know who she was). My two roommates, Terry Tautolo and Scott Stauch visited but one was cut and the other traded the week I was released from the hospital. Both had relayed to me how Walsh and our GM John McVay addressed the team to tell them I had a spinal exam and was recuperating at my parents’ home in Stockton – 2 hours away.

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I was told by the team Doctors and trainers I could still play and they were looking at having a specially-made helmet to protect my shunt, so I returned to the facilities and continued working out, trying to get back in shape (I was on IR at the time).

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Two months after we won Super Bowl XVI (May ’82), my shunt failed while fishing in Mexico, and my brother brought me home in a coma. (This was 2 days after I returned to Stanford and my first neurosurgeon, Dr. Koenig, complaining of bizarre behavior, having been arrested 3 times since my first brain surgery just 9 months prior – I had never been in trouble in my life – and losing my truck several times.)

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Dr. Koenig, my neurosurgeon, did a CAT scan on me during my visit the day prior to leaving for Mexico and said I looked fine and OK’d me to leave the country. Later I was to find out (per my new neurosurgeon) the CAT scan clearly showed the shunt was not functioning properly!

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Two brain surgeries ten hours apart on the day my brother brought me home (and two days AFTER Koenig cleared me for the trip!) and I was being given last rites. Not only was I given last rites during the surgeries, the 49′ers gave me the hospital bills. I had creditors on me for nearly five years until I successfully sued the 49′ers and their Workers’ Comp carrier, The Travelers, for workers’ compensation. No money was exchanged (though they offered me somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 to call it good and go away for ever.)

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Luckily, I didn’t take the offer and kept my case open, as I have had two more knee surgeries repairing what Dr. Behling, the 49′ers orthopedic surgeon never properly repaired. ( I had torn my ACL and he just removed all my cartilage and said I was good to go, which required a GoreTex ACL transplant 3 years later.) This may be where Behling earned his nickname ‘Dr. D‘ (for Dr. Doom!) while chopping on players.

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Once I settled my Workers’ Comp case (where I was rated 29% disabled in 1986 due to 3 knee and 3 brain surgeries), due to the fact I could no longer be employed as a professional football player, as California law stated back in 1986 “they were obliged by law to retrain me in a field of work where I could make a comparable amount of money.” Players need to realize this: If you can prove your career ended due to an injury on the job, you are owed Vocational Rehab. Just as if you worked at K-Mart, were injured and could not return to your duties. Believe it or not, even an $8 BILLION dollar NFL industry – which is based on employee violence – is also required to take care of injured employees, regardless of the BS they try to tell you.

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I managed to return and complete my biology degree in 1986 after I won my Workers’ Comp case and subsequently had 4 more brain surgeries in one ten-month period while completing my Chemistry, Physics and other fun classes. I finally graduated in 1990 at the age of 32, but only after keeping the pressure on Workers’ Comp the entire time.

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In addition to the two additional knee surgeries, I have now had a total of 8 (or 9 can’t remember) emergency VP Shunt brain surgeries, and several gran mal seizures. During the last 29 years I have been on Dilantin, Depacote, Phenobarbital, Kepra, Zonegran, and currently Lamictil for my seizures. All have horrible side effects which include near total loss of short term memory, agitation, esophageal ulcers and anger management issues, none of which are conducive to assimilating oneself back into post-NFL society.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: George had a recent interview with Fred Wallin on KCAA - his comments start 17:30 minutes into the program.

Click HERE to listen to the interview.

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My fight with the 49′ers Workers’ Comp, The Travelers, continues to this day. I was referred to Dr. Amen’s clinic by my primary care last July (2009), and fought with The Travelers from July until October to be approved. My approval only came after I promised to drive down to The Travelers Walnut Creek office and personally meet with the CEO, my claims adjuster, and a Dr. D.O. Guitterez who reviewed my claim. They decided rather than meet face-to-face with a brain damaged ex-NFL DT with anger management issues, it might be better to set me up with a case nurse (my advocate).

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Enter Julia Flagherty, the greatest thing to happen to me since I began this NFL Work Comp nightmare in 1981. Julia, my case nurse attends every one of my Doctors’ appointments now (my wife used to have to attend as I would not remember what was said, even while taking notes), listens to what they recommend and takes that back to Workers’ Comp to push it through. This takes an incredible strain off my wife and me. I would recommend all you wounded brothers and your families (who are carrying this fight even more than we do) to look into case nurses. This is something I am sure the insurance companies do not want to divulge, as it is another expense they are responsible for, and would rather see us continue to deteriorate and die.

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At my first visit to Dr. Amen’s clinic last October, my SPECT scans, microcog tests and other evaluations showed major brain damage to a number of different lobes of my brain, and Dr. Amen stated he would rate me as 80% disabled. Due to my ever-deteriorating memory, Dr. Amen prescribed Arricept, a dementia medicine. This didn’t work so we stacked Namenda (another dementia med) on top of the Arricept. After applying several times over the years for NFL Disability and conferring with John Hogan recently, I am continually told I do not qualify for benefits due to the fact I only have 2 credited years! Shoot, I wish I had worked for K-Mart, as you only have to work one day to be vested!

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We would like to hear of other brothers and their families fighting similar head injury, memory, anger management, dementia issues like I have been battling the last 29 years. Dr. Amen’s first evaluation stated that without intense intervention, I WILL have full-blown dementia in the next 10 years. The good news I would like to relay to all the wounded brother and their families is that there’s help on the way.

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Before my first exam at Dr. Amen’s clinic, Dr. Barry Sears of ZONE Health food products, began sending me his Omega 3 supplements, antioxidants and food products. All of these have helped repair some of the damage to my neurons and has also helped improve my memory tremendously. Omega 3 fish oils are a simple fix, as they are composed mainly of DHA and EPA. These two elements make up approximately 80% of dried brain matter. Dr. Sears SeaHealth Plus is a simple 2 oz. drink 2x a day, and is composed entirely of concentrated antioxidants from blueberries, seaweeds and other natural products. No drugs involved.

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I combined these products with Hyperbaric Oxygen treatments that Dr. Amen suggested, and for the first time in decades I wake up and can actually remember some of the things on my agenda for the day! (This is helpful when you are trying to run your own environmental consulting business.) I would HIGHLY recommend both treatments to ALL our wounded brothers. These treatments not only repair neurological functioning but also reduce inflammation and adding oxygen helps to repair ALL cells in your body.

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I recently got to speak with Wayne Walker’s wife and it breaks my heart to hear of their struggles. It is not only shameful but sinful how the NFL treats their discarded players. It’s well past time the $8 BILLION+ NFL industry steps to the plate like we did as players. This is much more than just an industry to amuse fans and pump up the owners’ egos. It’s an industry which substantially reduces its employees’ quality of life and life expectancy and should be addressed as such.

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George Visger

San Francisco 49′ers

1980 & 1981

Survivor of 9 NFL-Caused VP Shunt emergency brain surgeries

Benefactor of ZERO NFL Benefits

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