Joe Namath believes hyperbaric treatments cure brain damage

Joe Namath has gone the untraditional route in his treatments for brain damage.
Joe Amon/Getty Images

By Jesse Reed

New York Jets legend Joe Namath is convinced he’s found the cure for concussion-related brain damage.

The Hall of Fame quarterback took his fair share of crushing blows to the head during his playing days. He was completely knocked out at least five times in his career “with no treatment except smelling salts,” per ESPN’s Peter Keating. As a result, Namath began experiencing some cognitive challenges and sought to find help.

Namath discovered Jupiter Medical Center in 2012 and began a treatment plan with the facility that centered around spending time in a hyperbaric chamber. Over the course of time—120 trips later—he experienced a dramatic turnaround, prompting him to dive headlong into promoting the treatment as a viable option to concussion-related brain damage.

Per Keating:

“Last September he and Jupiter officials launched the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center. With great fanfare, they announced their goal to a throng of media at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York: to raise $10 million for a clinical trial of hyperbaric oxygen on 100 subjects suffering from symptoms of brain damage. Namath would be the lead fundraiser and cheerleader for the project.”

Namath is convinced this is the way out for others like him who have experienced varying levels of brain damage caused by concussions.

It’s important to note that the two doctors who treated Namath are not neurological experts. It’s also important to note that other doctors who are neurological experts are skeptical of the validity of such a treatment.

Keating writes:

“The Hall of Fame quarterback has never been conventional, and he knows what he’s selling is a leap beyond the fringes of accepted science. To many experts, the endeavor raises serious concerns. But to Namath, the truth is as simple as the air we breathe.”

After decades of hard living, which included powerful painkillers to help cope with the abuse suffered on the field and a fierce bout of alcohol addiction, Namath kicked his addictions in 2004. From that time forward, he realized just how much his football playing days were adversely affecting his day-to-day functionality, and he also realized he wasn’t alone.

Junior Seau’s tragic exit from the world triggered the warning bells for the legendary quarterback, who says, “It behooved me to find out what’s going on with my brain.”

To evaluate Namath, [Dr. Lee Andrew] Fox used a SPECT scan, a nuclear-imaging test that shows blood flow in the brain,” Keating wrote. “The results were shocking: Red, orange and yellow images lit up on the right side of Namath’s brain, showing normal activity, but the left side was largely dark.”

When faced with these results, Namath knew something was wrong.

“As a right-handed quarterback getting hit from the left side, [Namath] would typically be hit in the left temporal lobe,” Fox says. “When he gets sacked, he falls onto the ground and hits the back of his head. Those are the areas of the brain that we saw had decreased function.”

After 40 treatments in the hyperbaric chamber—one hour a day, five days a week—Namath’s scans came back “bright and symmetrical,” showing dramatic improvement. Not surprisingly, the former quarterback continued with the treatment and has experienced a complete turnaround as a result.

It’s no wonder he’s championing this method as a true cure.

It remains to be seen if others will jump on board this train, but hyperbaric chambers have long been used by professional athletes for various reasons. Many players have seen quicker recoveries from other types of injuries by utilizing them.

As with many other non-traditional methods of healing, most experts in the field of brain trauma have yet to view this as a viable solution. But that could soon change if others receive the same kind of help that turned Namath’s life around.

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