What Goes Around: Life after Football

Sep 2, 2010

“A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it, is committing another mistake.”

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While the NFL and the NFLPA continue to roll out one press release after another about the wonderful progress they’re making for today’s players on brain concussions, our focus has always remained focused on disability and pension benefits for its veteran players. Without the growing voices of the veterans to emphasize the long-term damages of life after football, we doubt if much of the progress we’ve seen today would even be happening. With help from our friends in the media and in Congress, our hope is to not only educate the fans and the general public about the long term effects of brain concussions but to also promote and advance new research into possible treatments for the problem. Like all things in life, everything is related directly or indirectly: Anything that benefits the retired players will surely help the active players, perhaps even on the field immediately after an injury. It would seem as though the NFL is slowly coming out of its decades of denial in finally acknowledging that concussions are bad for you. Now we have to get them to not only go back and pay those men who have long suffered in silence from being ignored by their employers but to look forward to ways of treating their suffering. And in doing so, we’ll not only be helping those hurt from the past but also those playing today and into the future.

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By openly studying and helping the veterans of the game, the direct and indirect benefits to all athletes as well as to the public at large far outweigh the flawed logic of denial. Retired players have benefited from the generosity of Dr. Daniel Amen and his clinical studies on the long-term aftereffects of concussions. And Dr. Ken Stoller has recently been treating some retired players with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) with promising results. We just received a detailed piece from Dr. Stoller on how the process works and his hands-on treatment with George Visger and Wayne Hawkins. Perhaps it’s only wishful thinking to hope that the NFL and the NFLPA will work together to provide these latest treatments for both its injured players on the field and off the field. We envision mandatory brain scans when new players enter and leave the game, as well as scans for all retired players. We also believe that HBOT may well be standard equipment in locker rooms in the future and retired players should all have direct access to such treatments as well.

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Each and every retired player continues to contribute to the betterment of this game they loved more than they are given credit for. The time has long passed to deny them their due.

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On Treating Wayne Hawkins with HBOT 1.5 (Part I)

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By: K. Paul Stoller, MD, FACHM

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The first retired NFL player I had the honor of treating was George Visger (San Francisco 49ers 1980 & 1981 [Super Bowl]; Survivor of 8 NFL-Caused Emergency VP Shunt Brain Surgeries; Benefactor of ZERO NFL Benefits). George’s story is detailed on Dave’s blog (click HERE to read a collection of older posts).

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George has completed his first set of 40 treatments and is now on his second set. George has made stellar improvements in his neurocognitve function since he began being treated with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) and is having his progress documented at the Amen clinic (Dr. Amen had generously offered brain scans to retired NFL Players as part of a detailed study). George is being treated at my Sacramento clinic.

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Like many of his colleagues, George has Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a known cause of dementia and is what used to be called Dementia Pugilistica (DP). Unlike many of his unfortunate colleagues, George has made such dramatic improvements in his brain function because of HBOT that he is perhaps the most articulate advocate for using HBOT to treat Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States, and this is all within the last several months. It would not be an exaggeration to say that George is one in a million – perhaps a billion.

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Life after Football: Wayne Hawkins undergoing HBOT. I took the photo of Wayne being treated in the chamber in San Francisco with his helmet from the '71 season on top of the chamber. There's a crack in the helmet from hitting his head against the goal post!

Not long after I started treating George, Wayne Hawkins and his wife Sharon came to see me at my San Francisco Institute for Hyperbaric Medicine. Wayne is older than George and also played a lot more football in the NFL and as bad off as George was, Wayne was worse. I will never forget our first meeting when I tried to explain to him what we would be doing. He had absolutely no short term memory. If what I was telling him registered at all it lasted only 90 seconds or so in his consciousness. My nurse, Gayle Link, actually made a video for him of the clinic so he could be reminded what he was involved in during the day!

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So, what exactly are we doing to treat George and Wayne? We are putting them into a chamber where they breathe 100% oxygen at a pressure of 1.5 absolute atmospheres (about 18 feet of sea water pressure). This is done for 60 minutes each day, 5 days a week. This is exactly the protocol we are using in the innovative National Brain Injury Rescue and Rehabilitation Project (NBIRR) where we are treating TBI/PTSD in veterans from the Afghan and Iraqi wars.

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Dr. Paul Harch at LSU completed a demonstration Pilot Protocol approved by the LSU School of Medicine Institutional Review Board. Using standard psychometric testing, the enhancements to functional brain imaging, cognitive, symptom, quality of life, and other results on the first 15 Veterans in this study were accepted and reported on 12 March 2010 at the 8th World Congress on Brain Injury in Washington, D.C. On average, these 15 Veterans experienced permanent 15 point IQ increases (i.e., roughly the difference between a laborer and an engineer), 40% reduction in post-concussion symptoms, 30% reduction in PTSD, a 51% decrease in depression, and concomitant improvements in memory, attention and concentration.

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All of these improvements were statistically significant, and, as a practical matter, unequaled by any other known therapy or therapies for TBI/PTSD. To further emphasize the reliability of these results, all of the clinical and imaging effects had earlier been underpinned by improvements in memory and increased blood vessel density in an animal model of chronic traumatic brain injury which tested an earlier but substantially equivalent version of the HBOT 1.5 protocol used in the Pilot Study results reported to the World Congress (Harch PG, Kriedt C, Van Meter KW, Sutherland RJ. Brain Res. 2007 Oct 12;1174:120-9. Epub 2007 Aug 16). All of the testing before and after treatment was performed by independent collaborators, a licensed neuropsychologist from LSU School of Medicine, Dr. Susan Andrews, and the chairman of the Department of Radiology from the UND School of Medicine, Dr. Edward Fogarty.

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These results were obtained after only 40 treatments. Based on past experience, greater improvements can be expected upon application of the final 40 treatments to TBI/PTSD patients.

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The primary structures damaged in TBI are the white matter tracts connecting different areas of the brain. The white matter includes the microscopic “cables” or fibers that transmit messages between the brain cells or neurons. A small, but significant, percentage of these fibers are severed or divided by the shear forces impacting the brain as it is impact-shaken back and forth within the skull. The fibers progressively retract over the subsequent year, leaving the brain with lesser capacity for transmission of information. This is analogous to the effect of a reduction in bandwidth when one downgrades computer access from Broadband to a 56k telephone modem.

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Just like a Soldier who gets returned to duty if their initial untreated TBI is not incapacitating, a football player with a maturing brain wound will show slowing reaction times, damaged memory, decreased attention/concentration, sleep disruption, headaches, irritability and other symptoms. If the brain injury is more severe, diminished capacity may cause relationship problems, domestic violence, substance abuse, depression, criminal activity, unemployment or incarceration.

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Given a lack of understanding of the above process by traditional neurology, the brain-injured football player faces many of the same problems encountered by veterans of the armed forces – they face physicians that have lack of or misinformation on traumatic brain injury.

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HBOT therapy is not new. It has been around for three-quarters of a century that has been proven to be the most effective treatment for wounds and whose protocols are under continuous improvement. Sophisticated biochemical research has shown that the primary action of HBOT is in the DNA of injured cells. HBOT activates genes that code for growth and repair hormones and genes that inhibit inflammation. The net effect is growth of new blood vessels, increase in protein-rich supporting tissue, bone, and skin, and the healing of wounds regardless of location in the body.

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The take home message here is that that there is an innovative effective treatment to biologically repair brain injury, and the time has come for NFL players present and past to demand this therapy be available to them and then demand it be available for all Americans, especially our Veterans.

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Kenneth P. Stoller, MD, is President of the International Hyperbaric Medical Association, a Diplomat of the American Board of Pediatrics, a Diplomat of the American Board of Hyperbaric Medicine, a Fellow of the American College for Hyperbaric Medicine, Medical Director of the San Francisco Institute for Hyperbaric Medicine, the Hyperbaric Oxygen Clinic of Sacramento, and the Hyperbaric Medical Center of New Mexico. A book by Dr. Stoller’s late son will be published at the end of the year (www.dreamtreaderpress.com).

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4 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Dave Pear
    September 2nd, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    Dave Pear Superbowl Ring
    A De Smith quote:

    (From THE HUDDLE Summer 2010; An Official Publication of the NFLPA). Pg 4

    “I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to make a change. This partnership with the (AARP) is part of that change. For the first time, the players will have a nationwide community service platform.”

    You can’t be serious! Anyone who is 50 years old can join AARP for $12 a year and receive virtually the exact same thing.

    I have personally tried to access the Medicare Supplement Insurance offer from AARP and I was able to get better coverage for less money from “Regence MedAdvantage” on my own. Also, to receive the benefit from AARP, you have to be 65 years old and we all know the early death rate for retired NFL players!

    This is another PR stunt. The issues facing retired players are:

    1) Disability/Pension. A disability plan that allows disabled players access to their benefits. And a pension that matches Major League Baseball (MLB);

    2) Medical after football.

    These new benefit programs from the NFLPA and NFL have fancy new names but offer little or NOTHING.

    When will real change occur?

    Regards,
    Dave & Heidi Pear

  2. Tweets that mention What Goes Around: Life after Football - Dave Pear's Blog -- Topsy.com
    September 2nd, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by HBOT Chronicles, RobertinSeattle. RobertinSeattle said: What Goes Around: Life after Football: “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it, is committing an… http://bit.ly/9hGZDe [...]

  3. Juliette Lucarini
    September 2nd, 2010 at 6:54 pm #

    Juliette Lucarini
    Dear Dr. Stoller,

    Excellently said! Indeed all past and present football players with acute concussions or post concussion syndrome need Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. So glad to see you are treating George and Wayne; they are the lucky ones to have found this. This is so simple to understand, it makes perfect sense – I don’t understand why more athletes don’t use it. Their bodies are their instruments and are most precious. They train rigorously and drink protein power shakes; they also need to also think about cognitive maintenance. The brain is the hard drive; without the brain functioning properly nothing else works right. Again, HBOT makes perfect sense. Great article. Great work!

    Juliette Lucarini

  4. Larry Kaminski
    September 4th, 2010 at 10:26 am #

    Larry Kaminski
    Dave and NFL retirees:

    I want to congratulate Sharon and Wayne for taking the right steps to help him with his issues. Like he always did on the field, he focused on the opponent and took the right steps to win his battle. I also want to thank all the medical people helping him and others.

    The NFL just does not get it and won’t. I received my reply for disability and was told I had passed the 15 year time frame for filing! Even though technology and medical research and treatments are now identifying the problems with the former players, the League replies in typical legal form. “We are sorry – the rules state that you have 15 years after playing to file. If you don’t follow the legal amendment after this time period…take an aspirin.” Even though they have the documentation of so many qualified experts, the rules are written and there is absolutely no flexibility. You are on your own.

    Don’t give up the fight. At least the medical people care about the head issues and we have them to thank for trying to help us.

    I also really thank the Amen Clinic who has helped me and anyone associated with these areas that we are involved in on a daily basis!

    Thanks
    Larry K
    Denver Broncos
    1966 – 1973