pediatric housecalls Robert R. Jarrett M.D. M.B.A. FAAP

10 Medical Breakthroughs Unaccepted At First – Part Three

I read an article recently about the many medical breakthroughs the world would have missed if the detractors, naysayers and just plain and simple evil-intentioned haters had their way; and I decided to turn it into an article.

I’ve mentioned nine so far in the previous two parts including: Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis who was basically killed for suggesting his colleagues wash their hands; the vitriol made public by the new fangled internet against Dr. Prusiner over disease caused by proteins; and, the delay in cancer therapy caused by the “good ol’ boy’s.”
Skeptical doctor – science is to find proof of best medical practices
I initially thought of ten cases, realizing there are many more; and, I’m going to stop at those ten because that’s enough to make my point which is: research is good and valuable, healthy skepticism is good; but hating, stonewalling, attacking, lying, harassment, bullying and destroying someone’s character is not! It’s evil!

Medical Breakthroughs Initially Ridiculed or Rejected

This last issue brings this whole issue into the 21st century and shows not only what we’re up against but what we’ve become. Vested interests are more than mere ego like they were years ago. Stakes aren’t just ‘bragging rights’ but run into the millions of dollars.

And techniques of hating have become professionalized, public and international. This last case combines the worst about both commercial vested interests and researchers… to them, the truth and the people it impacts is a joke, for sale to the highest bidder.

But before we do, a short digression through a recent discussion I had begging the question of how all the cases I’m listing aren’t the same as when medical people (including me) decry the “supplement” quackery and the Wakefield debacle.

Breakthroughs Vs Quackery

Crazy doctor - quack remediesQuack remedies should be seen for what they are

Let me begin by saying: ARE YOU KIDDING? No, honest. Do you truly not see the difference?

Every example I’ve listed were breakthroughs clearly supported by replicable and fundamental research—not that it was always done. There was rarely any money changing hands; and, they nearly always begged for others to replicate and verify.

The mineral and other material supplement industry is almost TOTALLY comprised of commercial interests and are the “poster child” definitions of secret “what your doctor doesn’t want you to know” scams.

Their research techniques and findings are specious at best; and, when legitimate research is done, do not support their claims.

The last example I’ll give today involves dishonesty to the highest degree and to my mind criminal offense.

Traumatic Brain Injuries in Sports

Dr. Bennet Omalu, an Allegheny County Coroner’s Office pathologist, said he never heard of NFL star Mike Webster before being asked to perform an autopsy on him.

A native Nigerian, Omalu didn’t know much about American rule football either—or how deceitful the NFL commissioner and other “powers” could be when trying to sweep their “bad press” under the rug.

Webster’s private physician had listed traumatic brain injury as a contributor to his complicated death which made the case fall under the purview of the coroner’s office and Omalu was assigned because of his experience in neuropathology.

His autopsy initially found heart changes one would expect from someone who had died of a heart attack—except, of course, for all the scaring and bone changes from chronic multiple traumas. However, his doctor, indeed the whole news-reading populace also knew that Webster’s recent life had been a shambles.

Bennet Omalu attacked for revealing traumatic brain injuryBennet Omalu attacked by NFL for medical breakthrough revealing traumatic brain injury in players

He sought help from a lawyer when he couldn’t even remember if he was married or not; then clung to the lawyer obsessively until he died visiting the law office during the day and sleeping in his truck in the parking lot at night—homeless, memory loss, personality changes, aggressiveness.

A year worth of record gathering and four independent medical evaluations all diagnosed: closed-head injury as a result of multiple concussions; but the NFL only gave him the most limited partial benefits despite appeal.

A suit in district court reversed the NFL decision (first time in history) yet the NFL [Commissioner, Roger Goodell and Dr. Ira Casson] instead of accepting medical evidence began a hateful, personal attack on the coroner and his findings costing millions and unrecognized in the annals of cover-ups rivaling even the tobacco industry.

The NFL immediately mobilized a cadre of physicians on the organization’s payroll to attack Dr Omalu’s research. They funded vitriolic attacks and mounted multiple legal attempts against organizations and publishers who had published Omalu’s findings, even peer-reviewed medical journals. And they expanded their attack to include Webster too.

The NFL filed an appeal and counter-suit in federal court claiming that the former-hero, “Iron Mike” Webster—who had: endured probably 25,000 violent collisions during his career, was now living on Pringles and Little Debbie pecan rolls, was sleeping in his truck in a parking lot and was occasionally catatonic in a fetal position for days—didn’t qualify for full disability.

Now needing to continually defend himself against lies and absurdity, Omalu began compiling every piece of data he could find in order to learn “everything” about the issue. He ordered so many tests on brain specimens that he had to begin paying for them himself.

Finally, a highly-specialized stain as a long shot unexpectedly showed the findings: splotches of “tau protein” which made it an unmistakable sign of a new disease which completely explained not only Webster’s symptoms but all the other players’ as well. Tau protein: like sludge, clogging up the works, killing cells in regions responsible for mood, emotions, and executive functioning.

Expecting his findings would be welcomed by the NFL so they could move on to finding a cure or other safety measures was the ultimate naiveté of Omalu. Instead, the NFL response: they convened a “study of the issue” by the doctors on their payroll, headed by a rheumatologist and without even one neuropathologist.

The slides of Webster’s brain were seen by other neuropathologists in a blind fashion with the same surprise diagnosis; what was by then being called: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, how did he avoid jail time?NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, willful fraud against humanity

When former Steeler’s guard Terry Long committed suicide his brain showed the same tau proteins; essentially the same history of depression, memory loss, crazy behavior, homelessness and attempted suicide. The NFL response: denial and personal attack.

Omalu received other brains too. Andre Waters, Eagles safety denied disability despite documented concussions, constant pain, crippling depression and suicide—findings: Tau protein and CTE. NFL response: denial and personal attack. Justin Strzelczyk, 36 year-old Steeler’s lineman, hearing voices and exploded a tanker truck during a high-speed police chase—findings: Tau protein and CTE. NFL response: denial and personal attack.

Others, in fact most honest researchers, began agreeing with Omalu’s findings as other players died and their brains became available for autopsy. He formed a research/study group with two others but became resistant to all the publicity they were seeking—his only goal was still to seek a “cure” or other “prevention” and saw that the press was not only a detractor but the source of much of the anger and obstacles to his research.

There are many questions still unanswered such as why only some players seem to get CTE and others don’t; drugs? steroids? fitness? severity? genetics? Omalu desperately wants to “get on” with finding solutions; which, all the press and hoop-la seems to care less about.

The $8 Billion/year NFL never has responded to his multiple attempts at dialog preferring instead mounting continual attacks as a smokescreen despite the now wide-spread acceptance of mounting scientific proof. They summon “experts” to fact-finding meetings and deliberately exclude Omalu; whose findings then need to be represented by other neuroscience researchers more than willing to do so.

The NFL’s continued tactics against this “whistle-blower” are to blackball him, lock him out, marginalize him.” In an HBO special, the NFL’s Casson was asked six different ways if repeated football-related concussions could result in brain damage, dementia, or depression; Six times he said “no.”

A 2003 study out of the University of North Carolina: “players who had suffered multiple concussions were three times more likely to suffer clinical depression?” NFL comeback: “the study was flawed.”

Follow-up study, 2005: repeatedly concussed NFL players had five times the rate of “mild cognitive impairment,” or pre-Alzheimer’s disease. Evidence that “retired NFL players suffering Alzheimer’s disease at an alarming 37 percent higher rate than the average guy walking down the street.” NFL comeback: “the studies were flawed.”

Accelerometers in college football players helmets prove player being knocked out is 60-90 g’s; fighter pilot passes out at 5-6 g’s; receiver getting blindsided is 100 g’s; regular linemen, they pull 20-30 g’s on EVERY play!

Omalu was sent the brain of 45 year-old Tom McHale, nine season offensive lineman Tampa Bay Buccaneers; findings: CTE for the sixth time. He decided the NFL and the press was enough and decided NOT to release his findings in favor of using the time-honored peer-reviewed medical literature route. BUT that was NOT what his angry (former) friend Nowinski could tolerate and demanded that his new organization be sent a brain sample to test.

NFLs Ira Casson debunkedNFLs Ira Casson debunked by science yet stubbornly defends misguided mistakes

Omalu voluntarily sent him a large sample with the understanding their findings NOT be made public before Omalu did. They found CTE too and went very public claiming his group, and not Omalu, had made the diagnosis—all for the press and ego values.

The NFL claimed they had a “world renowned” neuropathologist they wanted to see Omalu’s evidence to “set the record straight” and Omalu welcomed Peter Davies of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Davies said “he’d never seen Tau protein like Omalu was describing” so was dubious. For two days he was shown slide after slide to his amazement. He was given actual tissue samples to take so he could stain them in his own lab using the “latest techniques”—his techniques revealed even more Tau protein than Omalu had on his slides.

Now a staunch supporter, Davies said he wanted to become involved. The NFL response: they never released Davies’ report to the public.

Davies is pursuing the angle that it’s the use of illegal steroids that makes CTE worse in football players and perhaps not just the concussion and trauma alone; however, synthetic steroids were not even invented until thirty years after brain changes were first seen in boxers in the form of dementia pugilistica (1959).

Number sixteen, Gerald Small, Dolphins cornerback, dead at 52; unemployed, living with an aunt, drunk—Tau protein and CTE. NFL response: flawed study.

Number seventeen: Curtis Whitley, center for the Chargers, Panthers and Raiders; dead at 39 in rented trailer—Tau protein and CTE. NFL response: “Very little clinical data.”

Omalu’s group has seven new scientific papers under preparation revealing subcategories of CTE and a possible genotype. What they want is the NFL to join them in trying to figure this thing out; but, the NFL, to this day, still refuses to acknowledge Umalu and his group and has never spoken to them.

The federal court upheld the verdict on Webster and the NFL had to pay. They have even had to liberalize and implement changes in how they deal with disability; yet, incredibly, refuse to acknowledge Umalu’s findings as legitimate!

This would have be laughable, if it weren’t so totally irresponsible in light of all the college and Pee Wee leaguers who (still) dream of going pro! At what point do we begin holding these officers of corporate entities accountable for all the injury to humanity they are causing. Did we not learn our lesson over the tobacco industry coverups?!

Omalu still has set his sights on curing CTE, the disease he discovered and coined the name for. “A medicine that prevents the buildup of tau,” he says. “Like you take an aspirin to prevent heart disease.” Why not? “This is how we now need to talk. Not this back-and-forth of human selfishness. Not this NFL politics and meanness. Anybody still denying the disease is out of his mind. The issue now is treatment. That is my next step, now that I understand the pathology.”

 

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3 Posts in This Series