ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. – By his own count, Joe Namath sustained at least five concussions during his National Football League career, and on many other occasions he took hard hits to the head.
The repeated battering left the former Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the New York Jets with memory loss and other issues after his playing career ended in 1977.
But the longtime Tequesta resident didn’t seek treatment for his traumatic brain injury until decades later.
By then, former Pahokee football standout and NFL safety Andre Waters had committed suicide. So had a number of other former pro football standouts – Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau.
Autopsies on all five players showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. Symptoms include problems with thinking and memory, personality changes, and behavioral changes including aggression and depression.
“I tried to take care of myself over the years, but I questioned myself,” said Namath, 75, who spoke to a small group of reporters Wednesday during a private reception at the Sears Institute for Anti-Aging Medicine in Royal Palm Beach. “After seeing some friends and associates take their own lives, questioning myself, going from one room to the next and asking, ‘Why did I come in here?’ You start questioning yourself, knowing that you had at least a handful of concussions.”
In 2012, Namath decided to have his own brain checked out, and he was concerned with the results.
“My initial brain scan showed cells that weren’t getting enough blood,” he said. “There was a dark side of my brain.”
In August of that year, Namath had his first session of hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment at Jupiter Medical Center.
HBOT helps enhance the body’s natural healing process by inhalation of 100 percent oxygen in a total body chamber, where atmospheric pressure is increased and controlled. It is used for a wide variety of treatments, but has not been cleared by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to treat brain injuries.
Namath, though, swears by the treatment.
After 40 HBOT sessions, he says his brain is sound again.
“My brain scan made me feel so good after the first 40 times,” he said. “I’ve had a scan nearly each year since 2013. The brain has stayed healthy.”
Dr. Al Sears, whose integrative medicine and anti-aging practice utilizes HyperStem, a treatment that combines stem cells with oxygen therapy to grow new blood vessels, said Namath is courageous for making his health issues public.
“He’s become an advocate for what heals you when doctors told him there was no solution,” Sears said. “He had a plan for decreased brain health, and there was no conventional treatment. He found this, and it reversed his condition.”
The treatment isn’t cheap, though. A HyperStem session at the Sears Institute for Anti-Aging Medicine is $400, and it’s not covered by insurance.
But Namath believes in its effectiveness, just as he believes the NFL is making strides toward making football safer.
“They’re trying,” he said. “They have made it safer, but not completely safe from injury, whether it’s the joint, the knee, the elbow, the wrists. We’re not designed to have a joint go that way when it’s supposed to bend this way. The brain’s floating around there. It’s not designed to bounce off things. The NFL has changed some rules and made it safer.”
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