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How Nigeria’s Bennett Omalu Changed the NFL

The Movie

Will Smith stars in Concussion, a dramatic thriller based on the incredible true David vs. Goliath story of American immigrant Dr. Bennet Omalu, the brilliant forensic neuropathologist who made the first discovery of CTE, a football-related brain trauma, in a pro player and fought for the truth to be known. Omalu’s emotional quest puts him at dangerous odds with one of the most powerful institutions in the world. The movie opens in the United States on December 25th.

Nigerian doctor Bennett Omalu

Dr. Omalu received his MB, BS [M.D.] degree from the University of Nigeria in 1991. He received his Masters in Public Health degree in Epidemiology from University of Pittsburgh in 2004. He also received his MBA [Masters in Business Administration] degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2008. Dr. Omalu holds four board certifications in Anatomic Pathology, Clinical Pathology, Forensic Pathology and Neuropathology. Dr. Omalu is also board certified in Medical Management and is a Certified Physician Executive [CPE].

bennett omaluDr. Omalu was the first to identify, describe and name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy [CTE] as a disease entity in football players and wrestlers. He is currently the Chief Medical Examiner of San Joaquin County, California, and is the President and Medical Director of Bennet Omalu Pathology. He also serves as a Clinical Professor and Associate Physician Diplomate at the UC, Davis Medical Center, Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Dr. Omalu has testified twice before the United States Congress and has provided hundreds of testimonies as an expert witness in federal courts and state courts across the United States. Dr. Omalu is a member of many professional organizations, including but not limited to the College of American Pathologists, American Society of Clinical Pathology, American College of Physician Executives, American College of Epidemiologists, American Association of Neuropathologists, American Academy of Forensic Sciences, National Association of Medical Examiners, International Academy of Pathology and American Medical Association. Learn more about the distinguished Dr. Bennett Omalu

Dr. Bennett Omalu has authored two books; Play Hard, Die Young: Football Dementia, Depression and Death and another called A Historical Foundation of CTE in Football Players: Before the NFL, There was CTE

Career and the NFL

bennett omalu bookOn a foggy, steel gray Saturday in September 2002, Bennet Omalu arrived at the Allegheny County coroner’s office and got his assignment for the day: Perform an autopsy on the body of Mike Webster, a professional football player. Omalu did not, unlike most 34-year-old men living in a place like Pittsburgh, have an appreciation for American football. He was born in the jungles of Biafra during a Nigerian air raid, and certain aspects of American life puzzled him. From what he could tell, football was rather a pointless game, a lot of big fat guys bashing into each other. In fact, had he not been watching the news that morning, he may not have suspected anything unusual at all about the body on the slab.

The coverage that week had been bracing and disturbing and exciting. Dead at 50. Mike Webster! Nine-time Pro Bowler. Hall of Famer. “Iron Mike,” legendary Steelers center for fifteen seasons. His life after football had been mysterious and tragic, and on the news they were going on and on about it. What had happened to him? How does a guy go from four Super Bowl rings to…pissing in his own oven and squirting Super Glue on his rotting teeth? Mike Webster bought himself a Taser gun, used that on himself to treat his back pain, would zap himself into unconsciousness just to get some sleep. Mike Webster lost all his money, or maybe gave it away. He forgot. A lot of lawsuits. Mike Webster forgot how to eat, too. Soon Mike Webster was homeless, living in a truck, one of its windows replaced with a garbage bag and tape.

It bothered Omalu to hear this kind of chatter—especially about a dead guy. But Omalu had always fancied himself an advocate for the dead. That’s how he viewed his job: a calling. A forensic pathologist was charged with defending and speaking for the departed—a translator for those still here. A corpse held a story, told in tissue, patterns of trauma, and secrets in cells.

In the autopsy room, Omalu snapped on his gloves and approached the slab. He noted that Mike Webster’s body was sixty-nine inches long and weighed 244 pounds. He propped up the head and picked up his scalpel and sliced open the chest and cracked open the ribs. He took out the heart and found everything he expected of a man who was believed to have died of a heart attack, as was the case with Webster. Then he made a cut from behind the right ear, across the forehead, to the other ear and around. He peeled the scalp away from the skull in two flaps. With the electric saw he carefully cut a cap out of the skull, pulled off the cap, and gently, like approaching a baby in the birth canal, he reached for the brain.

Omalu loved the brain. Of all the organs in the body, it was easily his favorite. He thought of it sort of like Miss America. Such a diva! So high-maintenance: It requires more energy to operate than any other organ. The brain! That was his love and that was his joy, and that’s why his specialty was neuropathology. Read More at GQ.CO

 

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