24 February 2015

Combating Concussions

Evidence of the potentially life-threatening consequences of severe head injuries is growing, and recent lawsuits have thrust sports-related head injuries in particular into the national spotlight. Ray Easterling filed the first lawsuit against the National Football League in 2011, but Easterling committed suicide before the trial ended. He was posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressively degenerative disease that develops as a result of multiple concussions or traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Since that first lawsuit, the National Football League has agreed to pay out more than $765 million in settlement money to its 18,000 retired players because of concussion-related brain injuries.

This dramatic increase in high profile CTE cases has drawn significant interest in the medical research community, and one of the most prominent research supporters has been retired Jets quarterback Joe Namath. According to Namath, he sustained his fair share of concussions during his 13 seasons in the NFL, and he had recently begun experiencing fatigue and decreased cognition. His concern peaked in 2012 when he learned that star linebacker Junior Seau’s highly-publicized suicide may have been caused by CTE. As part of his treatment, Namath started undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a relatively new therapy recommended by his friend Dr. Lee Fox, a radiology medical director with Sheridan Healthcare. The treatment involves breathing 100 percent pure oxygen (compared to the 21 percent oxygen in the air that we normally breathe) for an hour or more while lying in a pressurized chamber. Originally conceived as a way to help deep sea divers recover from decompression sickness, the treatment has become increasingly popular in treating a number of diseases. Oxygen therapy helps stimulate the growth of new blood vessels, which can be critical to recovering from blood loss in the brain caused by a violent blow to the head.

The benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy have yet to be demonstrated in a formal clinical study, but Dr. Fox – along with his colleague Dr. Barry Miskin, chief of surgery at Jupiter Medical Center – are looking to change that. After seeing improvements in Joe Namath’s cognition and memory functions as a result of his continued hyperbaric oxygen therapy, they decided to test their results further. Working with Sheridan, they developed a groundbreaking protocol for the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for TBI and recently received approval from the FDA to launch the therapy’s first clinical trial.

Namath himself has pledged $10 million in support of the trial and the work that Dr. Fox and Dr. Miskin are doing. “Having Joe’s support is a huge boon to both the financial needs of the research and to the visibility of our work,” said Dr. Fox. “We hope his support will lead to a successful outcome for our study and more research in the area of TBI.” The trio’s pioneering efforts have led to the creation of the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center at the Jupiter Medical Center in Florida, which is supported by Sheridan’s clinical research and innovation programs.

To learn more about how Sheridan helps hospitals develop innovative physician teams, please visit our resource library.

To learn more about the clinical trial, visit www.namathneurocenter.com