NEW ORLEANS - At the age of 15, Dr. Bennet Omalu made history by going to medical school. Then he made history again with his research. Now the movie "Concussion" takes on the controversy about his research and the potential dangers of playing contact sports.
Dr. Omalu, played by actor Will Smith in 'Concussion,' was the first doctor to discover, diagnose and name a chronic brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. It's found most often in football players, professional hockey players, and wrestlers.
"I think it's a scientific fact and a scientific truth underlaid by generally accepted principles of medicine and common knowledge that when you expose your head to repeated blows in every activity, especially high impact contact sports, there is a significant and inherent risk of developing permanent brain damage," said Dr. Omalu. He currently serves as the chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California, and a clinical associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.
He studied the brain tissue of more more than 10,000 people of all ages and all types of injuries. Now he and doctors in the College of American Pathologists want to educate people, especially parents, about the problem. He says helmets will not prevent subconcussions and concussions, since the brain can crash internally into the skull. He also said you do not have to have a concussion or medical symptoms to have damage on the cellular level that can show up decades later.
"(Symptoms) may include: mood disorder, like severe depression, like bipolar disorder, like drug abuse, alcoholism, diminution in intelligence, impaired judgment, and eventually in the later part of your life, dementia," Omalu explained.
He says taking regular fish oil can help the brain and hyperbaric oxygen treatment can help surviving neurons function better, but there is no cure. For now, the brain damage is permanent.
"The risk is present and it could manifest many, many years later after you've forgotten, long forgotten that you played any high impact contact sport," said Omalu.