CINCINNATI (WKRC) - National Football League (NFL) statistics reveal its players suffered nearly 2,000 concussions from 2012 to 2019. Even with new concussion protocols designed to protect today’s players from further damage, neurologists say many of those players could be left with lifelong damage to their brains.
This Spotlight on America report is part of our continuing examination of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), which a growing number of players and experts claim can reverse damage to brains caused by concussive blows.
A LEGEND WITH A NEW LEASE ON LIFE
On a field overlooking the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, where his bust is enshrined inside, Dave Robinson, a legendary former linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, talked about the therapy he claims has given him a new lease on life.
“I feel good,” Robinson exclaimed with a smile.
The 79-year-old says he has more energy too. It’s a far cry from the worries Robinson expressed in December at a Pro Football Retired Players Association board meeting in Arlington, Virginia.
“I don’t want to get to that point where I don’t’ recognize my friends,” Robinson said, explaining his memory had become murky while he battled sleeplessness and bouts of agitation.
Robinson blames his brain issues on countless concussions he received while playing in brutal games, including leading his beloved Packers to victory in the first two Super Bowls.
When asked how many concussions he received on the field during his years of glory, Robinson didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“Oh! More than you have fingers and toes,” he exclaimed, noting later that he suffered serious blows to the head in most games.
But now, for the first time in decades, Robinson says his mind is clearing and his memories are coming back, crediting it all to the HBOT he received.
“DIVING” INTO HBOT
Because HBOT was originally developed to treat divers who suffered from a buildup of nitrous oxygen in their blood, commonly referred to as "the bends,” each treatment is called a “dive.”
“I did 40 dives," Robinson explained, talking about his treatment in May and June in a big purple hyperbaric chamber at Sara’s Garden, a clinic in the small northwestern Ohio city of Wauseon, which is just hours from his home in Akron.
During these dives, Robinson was fitted with an oxygen hood and sat down in the sealed chamber while it delivered100% oxygen under pressure. According to HBOT experts, this simple process delivers pure oxygen through the lungs to all parts of the body, including damaged sections of the brain.
MRI images attached to several studies reveal dormant sections of wounded and damaged brains light up with new brain activity after patients receive HBOT.
IMPLICATIONS FOR TREATING CTE
Forty scientific studies have revealed HBOT does heal wounded brains, which could be a game-changer for former players suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition that has plagued former NFL Players.
In 2017, a team of doctors and scientists examined the brains 111 former NFL players, including Junior Seau, Ken Stabler and Frank Gifford, and found 110 of them had CTE.
Yet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which approves HBOT for 14 conditions, does not approve HBOT for treating brain injuries, citing a lack of rigorous, clinical studies to prove it works, which brings us back to that Pro Football Retired Players Association board meeting in December.
Robinson and some of the greats of the game, Darrel Thompson, Billy Joe Dupree, Mike Haynes, Ron Mix, Mike Singletary, Jackie Slater and Jack Youngblood, all said they were suffering from the effects of concussions they received when they played football. Jim Brown was not in attendance.
Led by PFRPA’s executive director and CEO Bob Schmidt, the board voted to undergo HBOT themselves to truly see if it works.
“We’re going to use our retired players to really bring this issue forward," Schmidt explained, saying he believes PFRPA can help bring HBOT to all players and even to military veterans who suffer from wounded brains.
Robinson is the first board member to undergo the full treatments and says it truly worked. Now, this Hall-of-Famer, who is already enshrined inside the hallowed hall in Canton, says he has one more run at another legacy: proving HBOT really works at curing the damage from concussions that have long plagued football players.
“I hope when I’m a 100 I still have my memories, I still have my faculties and can still move around and can tell people I owe it all to HBOT,” Robinson said with a smile moving across his face.