Exclusive interview with the heart and soul of the movie Concussion: Dr. Omalu M.D. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Patricia Turnier LL.M and LL.D Candidate in 2016   
Wednesday, 02 August 2017 00:00

 

Dr. Bennet Omalu was born in Nigeria (where he learned to speak Igbo and Pigeon English) during the Civil War. He is the sixth of seven siblings. His mother worked as a seamstress while his father occupied roles such as civil mining engineer, community leader in Enugu-Ukwu and deputy director of mines. Thus, the physician comes from a family that values higher education. For instance, his younger sister holds a PhD degree from Scotland in energy law.

Dr. Omalu started primary school at the age of three. He outperformed the older children in his class. He learned how to read at three like Oprah Winfrey, Johnnie Cochran and Toni Morrison. Being exposed to education so early definitely helped them to rise up. Later, the pathologist enrolled into the Federal Government College Enugu for secondary school. He began medical school at the age of sixteen at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. In 1990, he obtained a MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) in Nigeria. He graduated from medical school in 1990. Albeit disappointed by the political situation of his country, he started to look for opportunities in America. He looked for scholarships. Hence, Dr. Omalu arrived first in Seattle, Washington in 1994 to finish an epidemiology fellowship at the University of Washington. In 1995, he enrolled in Columbia University’s Harlem Hospital Center for a residency training program in anatomic and clinical pathology.

Dr. Omalu has eight post-nominal titles and will probably continue to acquire more degrees for the rest of his life. More precisely, the physician possesses eight advanced degrees: MD, MBA, MPH, CPE, DABP-AP, CP, FP, NP with board certifications. He is a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist, a Chief Medical Examiner at San Joaquin County, and a professor (where he teaches at the UC Davis pathology department) among other occupations. The physician has six sub-specialties: Anatomic Pathology, Clinical Pathology, Forensic Pathology, Neuropathology, Epidemiology and Medical Management. Dr. Omalu obtained fellowships in pathology and neuropathology via the University of Pittsburgh in 2000 and 2002 respectively. Dr. Omalu strongly believes that America is a land of opportunity. He has not wasted his time since he arrived in the U.S.; he now possesses substantial work experience and numerous degrees. He is part of the American intelligentsia. The doctor’s accomplishments exude the American meritocracy. The media has reported that few physicians have a neuropathology’s expertise. This helped Dr. Omalu to detect the presence of abnormal proteins in the brain of the late football player Mike Webster. This athlete’s case will be displayed later.

In 2002, Dr. Bennet Omalu became the first scientist to publish discoveries of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players while exercising his profession at the Allegheny County Coroner’s office in Pittsburgh. Together with colleagues in the Department of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, Omalu published his discoveries in Neurosurgery in 2005 via an article entitled "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player." Dr. Omalu had no problems with other researchers using his work to find solutions. Noteworthily, one of his colleagues was Dr. Wecht, a pathologist who has never avoided high-profile cases. He examined well-known deceased people such as JFK, Elvis and the six-year-old Jon Benét Ramsey.

At first, the article received little attention but in May 2006, the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) Committee asked for its retraction (even though the paper was supported by other scientists with its co-authors). Dr. Omalu refused and in November 2006, he published a second Neurosurgery article based on his discoveries while examining the brain of former NFL athlete Terry Long, who suffered from depression and killed himself in 2005 at the age of 45. The pathologist found a high level of tau proteins in Long’s brain like a 90-year-old with advanced Alzheimer’s. Later, Jeanne Marie Laskas turned the article into a book, Concussion (Penguin Random House, 2015). In the same year, the book was adapted into an eponymous motion picture where Dr. Omalu is the protagonist portrayed by Will Smith. The movie was also based on the 2009 GQ article entitled "Game Brain" penned by Laskas. The motion picture stars Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist who fought efforts by the National Football League to quash his research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) brain damage suffered by professional football athletes. The movie also stars Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Albert Brooks. Columbia Pictures released the movie on Christmas day in 2015.

Dr. Omalu later collaborated with Dr. Julian Bailes (a neurosurgeon, concussion researcher, and then chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at West Virginia University School of Medicine) and West Virginia attorney Robert P. Fitzsimmons to create the Brain Injury Research Institute, forming a brain and tissue bank.

Dr. Omalu has written three books: Play Hard, Die Young, (2008), A Historical Foundation of CTE in Football Players, (2014) and Truth Doesn’t Have a Side, (2017). The first book is very informative. There is even a glossary at the end. The content is presented meticulously and thoroughly. In his first book, the author narrates how the prevalence of brain damage (especially dementia) is higher among football athletes compared to the general population.

In Play Hard, Die Young, readers learn in detail about what happened to the former football athlete Mike Webster during his retirement, meaning how the blows on his head and the hits on his body had a tragic impact on his life. In other words, there is in-depth information about his medical condition and autopsy. The book helps the reader to understand more utterly how the doctor discovered concussion. At some point, Webster was denied disability benefit. GQ wrote on December 13, 2006, seven years after the initial official complaint and four years after Webster’s death, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recognized that Webster had been totally and permanently disabled as a result of brain wounds from playing professional football. The court’s decision resulted in an award of more than $1.5 million to Webster’s four children and former spouse. They had to fight for years to get there. In 2014, the NCAA accepted to settle a class-action head-injury lawsuit by founding a $70 million fund. This money helps thousands of current and former college players to determine if they suffered brain injury by playing football, hockey, soccer and other contact sports. The NCAA also approved a single return to play policy spelling out how teams must treat athletes who receive head blows. Unlike the proposed settlement in a similar lawsuit against the NFL, the settlement stopped short of setting aside money for athletes who suffered brain injury. In 2013, former NFL players agreed to receive a $765 million in a concussions lawsuit.

Again about Play Hard, Die Young, readers also learn in detail what happened to the late NFL player Terry Long. The athlete Andre Waters was another player who suffered from blows in the head. In the book, the public will find an excerpt of a loving and moving letter written by Andre Waters for his mom for Mother’s Day. Play Hard, Die Young was praised by the journalists of The Washington Post, etc. Regarding the late NFL athletes, the book is dedicated to Mike Webster, Terry Long and Andre Waters.  Dr. Omalu’s latest book, a memoir, deserves to become a NY Times Best Seller. In it, we learn a lot about the physician such as how very humble he was and still is. During his journey in America, he was willing to do any job (as long as it was an honest one) to pursue his medical studies. Dr. Omalu represents a great example of motivation and determination. He had to work while attending medical school which is a full-time job in itself.

In his autobiography, Dr. Omalu narrates the hurdles he encountered after his CTE discovery such as the loss of his work. He lost practically everything he worked for. He went through almost a professional suicide. However, thanks to his faith, the support of his loved ones and friends, he managed to overcome his obstacles (the use of the testing techniques for housing in America, problems with the embassy during his first years in America, etc.). The author is not afraid in his memoir to share the emotions he felt when he encountered impediments. In his books, the author generously shares his knowledge and experiences. Nothing seemed off-limits. There is a lot of meat around the bone in terms of content. His latest book is also available in an audio format.  

Dr. Omalu is a man who does not take himself too seriously. For instance, in his memoir he makes readers laugh when he pens about the time his wife made him change his clothes before his first meeting with Will Smith. The physician is not afraid to share that younger it bothered him to not be a tall man. Well, he was well-served by being portrayed in his movie by one of the tallest male actors in Hollywood.

His second book is published by one of the top American Publishing Houses, Harper Collins which offered him a lucrative deal. In a time when young people are often misguided by the myth of immediate success or instant gratification without efforts, Dr. Omalu’s journey shows that hard work pays off. His path conjures the quote of Benjamin Franklin: “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest”. This definitely brings a breath of fresh air and it gives hope to people. In the memoir, readers will also learn the identities all the A-list African-American star actors considered to play the role of Dr. Omalu.

Overall, the autobiography goes beyond Dr. Omalu’s life. Readers learn about the history of Nigeria, including the Biafra War (the Nigerian Civil War from July 6, 1967 till January 15, 1970). During that time, the physician was born in a refugee hospital. He also shares his spirituality and the place it occupies in his life. The author discloses in his candid memoir the resilience and courage of his parents. We learn about the author’s tribe, the Igbo, and he reveals the insecurities he had growing up (for instance, he internalized how his country perceived his tribe). Readers will also find a chapter where the specialist answers questions from parents regarding contact sports.  The memoir contains different layers or facets. It can be perceived as a medical thriller (especially the part regarding the discovery of CTE with all the snags that occurred afterwards), a GPS or a blueprint for future physicians, or a source of wisdom and inspiration for people who are trying to improve their lives. Here are the moving words of sagacity (dear to the author) from his late father comprised in the book: ‘’Look Bennet, I hope you’re not getting all these for the purposes of self-aggrandizement or ego. That would be very dangerous. But if you’re getting all this education so you can use your talent as equity to enhance the lives of other people, that would be beautiful”. Morality is non-negotiable for Dr. Omalu. His actions demonstrate that he is a man who will not choose a higher status or prestige over fairness or justice. Dr. Omalu knows that he did not arrive at his current position by himself and that God was with him at every hurdle and victory. He did not forget where he came from and remains grateful to God. Dr. Omalu avers in his latest book that his Christian faith has been part of his entire life and has helped him surmount his struggles and vicissitudes. His religious beliefs helped him to triumph over many hurdles that life threw at him. The readers will discover in his memoir his pluck, determination and resourcefulness.

It is interesting to observe in his book that the physician does not shy away from sharing his emotions and baring his soul. The memoir makes readers laugh and cry. The physician shares in his book the doubts he had throughout his life journey. In addition, the author of course communicates his thoughts about the movie Concussion. The memoir is dedicated to his family. Moreover, Will Smith prefaced the book. Mark Tabb is the co-author of the autobiography. Dr. Omalu’s two books are fascinating and page-turners. The author uses an accessible language that even twelve-year olds can understand. He expresses himself in his books not only as a physician but also as a concerned father about contact sports.

Will Smith interpreted Dr. Omalu excellently in the movie Concussion, in other words it was one of the best performances of his career. He received a Golden Globe nomination as best actor for the movie. Nonetheless, the actor deserved at least an Oscar nomination for playing Dr. Omalu. It is important to note that the Oscars have never given an award in the best-actor/actress category to an African-American scientist/physician not even to Sidney Poitier for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (he did not have an Oscar nomination for this role) nor for Black philanthropists in the same category. More recently, in 2016 it is widely known how the Oscars were criticized for their lack of diversity.

Seul contre tous is the French name of the movie Concussion. It means Alone Against All. This title really evokes that it was a David versus Goliath battle. Dr. Omalu was courageous because he ended up alone against a system. The Denver Post wrote that Smith’s performance was "sensitive [and] understated". The movie raised over $48 million at the box office.

The pathologist has been featured on many platforms: The New York Times, CNN, ESPN, ABC, GQ, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Time magazine, etc. Last May, he was featured in Dublin’s biggest newspaper, The Irish Times. He also wrote for the NY Times https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/07/opinion/dont-let-kids-play-football.html?_r=0 in 2015. In addition, the physician is mentioned in the documentary League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis for PBS in 2013 and in the Broadway play ‘’Headstrong’’ in 2012. The media reports that thanks to Dr. Omalu’s discoveries since 2002, concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) ensuing long term damage, in addition to short term damage, have gained much awareness. “It is now recognized that CTE is caused by head trauma. Like Mike Webster, Dr. Omalu declared that Terry Long’s football career had triggered later brain damage and depression. The physician also discovered evidence of CTE in the brains of retired NFL athletes Justin Strzelczyk (who passed away in 2004 at the age of 36), Andre Waters (who died in 2006 at 44), and Tom McHale ( who perished in 2008 at 45). The pathologist also examined the brain of NFL running back Damien Nash, who died in 2007 at 24. Furthermore, Dr. Omalu found CTE in the brains of military veterans, publishing the first documented case in a November 2011 article entitled: “Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in an Iraqi war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who committed suicide”. The physician discovered evidence of CTE in a 27-year-old Iraq War veteran who had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and later killed himself. The media utters that Dr. Omalu’s work states that PTSD is related to the CTE spectrum of diseases and needs greater study in the medical field. These issues gained the attention of the White House and last year former President Barack Obama announced a $30 million project to study the risk of concussion in sport and its treatment. In addition, in May 2016, the commander in chief held the first White House summit on sports concussions, inviting officials, medical researchers, sportsmen and concerned parents. Dr. Omalu was invited to the White House as a speaker to share his expertise. The pathologist is recognized around the world. For instance, the Royal Colleges of Surgeons in Dublin awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in science last June.  He also received in 2016 the Distinguished Service Award from the AMA (American Medical Association).

Dr. Omalu discovered abnormal proteins in Mike Webster’s brain in 2002 via an independent and self-financed tissue analysis. The physician is a real life super-hero. Dr. Omalu spent $100,000 of his own money to pay for the analysis that led to the well-known discovery. This demonstrates the depth of his philanthropy. Dr. Bennet Omalu was honored at the U.S. House of Representatives for his efforts to increase awareness of repetitive brain trauma in 2016. However, he also deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor in America) and/or the Congressional Gold Medal. He also merits a Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery. The physician is a man for whom it is important to maintain his personal, spiritual and professional integrity. He takes his Hippocratic Oath very seriously by honoring his ethical code. He was not willing to jeopardize his uprightness even if it meant a serious setback to his profession. Dr. Omalu is a physician with a conscience. He knew that the issue was bigger than him. It concerned the health of athletes, the well-being of their loved ones and the population as a whole. He deserves the key of at least one American city. The physician could be the next Surgeon General of his country.

Again, Dr. Omalu is another great example of the American dream and a concrete example of the American meritocracy. Dr. Omalu’s path shows that it is possible to succeed regardless of your social class and so on. Once more, Dr. Omalu’s story is about resilience, courage and triumph. He refused to accept the status quo. Hence, Dr. Omalu is not afraid of the system. The physician ‘is not for sale’. It took bravery to jump into the void but it was more important for Dr. Omalu to keep his morality in spite of the aforesaid hurdles. In addition, better doors opened to him afterward.

The physician’s Christian faith helped him to face many tribulations. Again, going to medical school is a full-time job in itself and the author also had to work at the same time to support himself. He managed to become one of the most trained physicians in the U.S. Currently, Dr. Bennet Omalu is the chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California, and an associate clinical professor of pathology at the University of California in Davis. Now, Dr. Omalu lives in California with his wife Prema Mutiso, a registered nurse and their two children. Mrs. Mutiso is originally from Kenya. Dr. Omalu became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2015. His parents inspired Dr. Omalu to become the man that he is today. It is important to mention that his father was abandoned at the age of three and managed to become an engineer overseas. His parents were married for 56 years until his father’s death in 2014. As mentioned, Dr. Omalu did not forget where he came from and his Catholic faith is dear to his heart.

[The following interview occurred last May.  It is his first Canadian exclusive web interview.  Since our conversation, two new articles will be published: one will be the first time scientists will confirm that CTE in the brain of a living person can be detected by using a PET scan, the second will be about the first time that scientists will identify CTE in the brains of military veterans which is called the “Blast Variant of CTE].

P.T. As a physician, how do you think the American healthcare system can be improved? Is it true that circa 80% of diseases are preventable? If so, how can more prevention be put into effect in the health care system?

Dr. O. I do not know where you got the 80% statistic but it is true that most diseases are preventable. I think that what the Republican Party is doing is taking us backward. I believe healthcare is a basic human right, not a luxury or a privilege. In other words, nobody should be deprived of it, otherwise it diminishes us as human beings and it is not Christian. Nothing should be above humanity. Healthcare must be accessible and available to everybody regardless of the background of the person. All the other Western countries provide financially attainable healthcare to their population and we have the resources here to do the same. This will make us stronger as a nation because everybody will benefit from it. If the government sees flaws in the Obama Affordable Care Act, it just has to find solutions to fix it. I can compare the current situation to a car: that is to say, if the automobile develops a problem, you repair it; you do not need to buy a new car every time something goes wrong. It would cause bankruptcy after a while. So, I believe, it is important to expand healthcare to everybody and develop ways to finance it. My conception of the health system must be inclusive and should adapt to the needs of the population.

P.T. The life expectancy of Americans dropped last year for the first time since 1993. How can this situation be corrected? Moreover, what do you think needs to be done for better access to health care in the U.S.?

Dr. O. I think this problem is mainly due to public education. America is a very dynamic society with people who come from all parts of the world. Many times, there are poor people who come to America for a better life. So, it may negatively impact the life expectancy given that health can be related to the social economic background. Another factor is the drug use epidemic which is prevalent in certain parts of America. I think there is an urgent need for a rejuvenation of mindset regarding a new way of life. A segment of society has a sense of entitlement, a change is required. The truth needs to be said. People have to be prepared for a transformation in society. Remember that the title of my book is the Truth Doesn’t Have a Side. We need to begin with the truth because there is no alternative. Perception does not exist with the truth. As soon as you accept that, you will use your energy to find solutions to the problem you are facing. The fact that life expectancy went down recently reflects the contradictions in society.

In addition, I think that the definition of health needs to be expanded. Good health is not just about absence of diseases but also a state of wellbeing. The World Health Organization offers a broad definition and we can use it as a model for improvement with implementation. I believe that the Affordable Care Act is fine because it comprises an adequate foundation. We need to go back to it and make it stronger. This is my recommendation. The act covers disease prevention and health education. As health care becomes more accessible and affordable, the wellbeing of the population as a whole increases. As a pathologist, I performed many autopsies on people without access to healthcare. They did not see doctors and were not monitored. Unfortunately, they died from diseases such as appendicitis or diverticulitis. They would not have died if they had affordable access to health care.

When I was living in Africa, we had home health visitors in rural areas where there were no hospitals nearby. Nurses and other health educators went to these people’s houses. They monitored their health by taking their blood pressure, etc. If necessary, people were sent to the hospital or referred to other health practitioners for thorough tests. These practitioners measured their health while giving them valuable health knowledge.

In my opinion, economic law means that a part of the population will always be poor. Poverty cannot be eradicated but we must keep the rate or ratio at its minimum. In addition, the poor has to be uplifted to become part of the mainstream economy, otherwise the entire economy could collapse. Healthcare is a socio-economic factor. The lack of healthcare negatively impacts the GDP. Many people do not think about that. So, everybody should benefit from healthcare and human beings need to be at the center of the debate. We cannot afford to lose sight of this highly important fact. Some political garbage, demagogy, philosophy, interminable rhetoric and so on won’t represent the emphasis. Diseases do not discriminate. It does not matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat. We have a shared common humanity. Health concerns everybody. The current debate and discussion should start with humanity.

P.T. Someone who is poor and has access to healthcare might become the person who discovers a cure for cancer for instance.

Dr. O. Exactly! So, discrimination based on social classes, etc. regarding the accessibility to healthcare is not appropriate and we become less human as a whole by depriving this basic right. This country is Christian, our bills say ‘’In God We Trust’’. We need to embody this in our health policies. As Christians, we should not do to others what others do unto us. This is the foundation of my faith as a Christian. Christians need to see themselves in other people and have empathy. Denying someone healthcare is like putting a gun to their head. We are the wealthiest country in the world and the only industrialized nation that does not provide universal healthcare. We would probably become much richer if everybody had access to healthcare. There is no excuse for the current situation. We should cut costs by using less bureaucracy and less paperwork. We could use digital files instead of paper files, since we live in a digital era. I am not convinced that we have truly assessed and implemented ways to lower expenses.

P.T. In simple terms, please define and describe the symptoms of gridiron dementia and dementia pugilistica. (Do not hesitate to give examples and please tell us how these maladies affect the daily lives of patients). Can doctors diagnose these illnesses in a living patient or only during autopsy like with Alzheimer’s disease?

Dr. O. Scientists do not officially recognize the name gridiron dementia. It is a name that some people gave for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In the early 1920s, scientists and physicians thought that only boxers suffered from brain damage in sport. People commonly call it dementia pugilistica or punch-drunk syndrome. It constitutes a sub-type of CTE. In 2002, with my autopsy, I discovered that other athletes could suffer from some form of brain damages similar to boxers. Later, we realized that other sports or any situations involving the head exposed to repeated blows (with or without symptoms, with or without a helmet) might be damaging. There are 100% risks of permanent brain damage. This injury sometimes manifests as dementia when you get older. In other words, in some cases it may take decades to see the consequences. In other cases, much younger people develop symptoms similar to dementia. Other times, the symptoms present themselves as psychiatric problems such as acting out, mood disorders, alcoholism or drug abuse. The spectrum of symptoms may be wide and in later years they might transform into dementia. The early broad symptoms may include depression, difficulty assimilating new information, loss of intelligence, disinhibition, bipolar disorder, loss of memory, Parkinsonism (often characterized by problems with executive functions, a lack of coordination and shakings) and so on. Only an autopsy allows a definite diagnosis of CTE.

In daily lives, these problems create difficulties keeping a job, social disintegration like loneliness, divorce or separation, financial problems such as questionable investments, inability to go to school or maintain a job. In other words, it impacts every aspect of life. Unfortunately, many patients become bankrupt and lose their homes. Some even become homeless. Certain veterans have brain damage. We tend to think that they have mainly PTSD. Regarding again the consequences, suicides and homicides are the worst cases.

Three conditions are preventable by avoiding high impact and high contact sports. There is no cure once you are affected. The brain does not have the capacity to regenerate itself. It is possible to make a diagnosis when you are alive, based on the symptoms. This is called a presumptive diagnosis. However, after death a definitive diagnosis can be done by the pathologist. Doctors make a presumptive diagnosis using radiological exams but these are still in the research phase. For this reason, I maintain my position stating that no minor under the age of eighteen should play high contact, high impact sport. After eighteen, they still can be vulnerable because the brain continues to develop at least until the age of twenty-five. So, they need to make informed decisions. Minors should play safer sports with no high contact or high impact like track and field, swimming, tennis, volleyball, basketball, etc. Sports like football, rugby, boxing, ice hockey, wrestling, mixed martial arts should be avoided for underage people. The head must not be involved in soccer before the age of 18. The way that people play soccer today requires a high level of dexterity and visual spatial development (including coordination, etc.) that children have not developed yet. To play soccer, you need to know where to kick the ball. You have to know the location of your opponent. That way, you will be less likely to run into him. Because kids are not fully developed, this is why children bump into one another when we watch them. In other words, players require peripheral vision. The full neurological capacity of children has not reached its full maturity yet. So, kids should not start playing soccer until the age of twelve or even fourteen.

P.T. In your first book Play Hard, Die Young, you wrote about Webster-Long-Waters syndrome. Can you elaborate on that?

Dr. O. Webster-Long-Waters syndrome was my name for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). When I wrote my first book, I had not yet discovered the cause of the pathology and I was struggling to find a name for it.

P.T. For our readers, can you explain the difference between CTE and Concussion? What is the best way to detect them for living athletes? Is it through CT-Scans or MRI, for instance?

Dr. O. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy syndrome comprises all the diseases caused by traumas to the brain. Concussion is one of the diseases provoked by injuries to the brain. Concussion happens immediately after the high impact with symptoms lasting for several days or weeks. Concussions and CTE are not directly related. The only link is that both are caused by brain traumas. Concussion does not trigger or produce CTE. What causes CTE is brain trauma with or without concussion.
Conventional MRIs and CT Scans would show negative results. I will not go into technical detail. However, these tests might show unconventional changes in the brains of people with CTEs. MRIs and CT Scans are not used to diagnose concussions. Rather, these tests are used to rule out other types of brain traumas.

P.T. What is the best test?

Dr. O. [Chuckles] There is none for now. The FDA (food and drug administration) has not approved one yet. So, we conduct a diagnosis of exclusion. Unfortunately, there is no cure when someone suffers from concussion or CTE. There is a treatment but it does not cure it.

P.T. It is like someone who has HIV, for example.

Dr. O. Exactly, it becomes a chronic condition that cannot be cured. Someone who has HIV relatively live a normal life but with concussion or CTE, the patient’s cognitive ability is affected.

P.T. In simple words, can you explain the distinction between a concussion, postconcussion syndrome and subconcussion? Furthermore, what is the prevalence of concussion among athletes who practice high-contact sports?

Dr. O. The issue should not be about concussion in high contact sports but about blows to the head. It is possible to suffer brain damage without having a concussion. Subconcussion is an injury to the brain without symptoms, including immediate incapacitating symptoms. Over time, the more subconcussions you receive, the more irreversible brain damage will occur. Concussion represents brain injury with immediate symptoms. Usually, there is no bleeding inside the head or brain. Postconcussion syndrome concerns where you suffered concussion and weeks or months later you are still having symptoms. These conditions are all part of the CTE spectrum.

I won’t talk about prevalence because I do not believe that the problem is about concussion but repeated blows to the head with all its consequences. Many people among professional athletes who present CTE do not have a history of concussion. Unfortunately, there is a misappropriation of science going on by some post-industrialists. For their own interests, they will tell athletes that they suffer from subconcussion and not concussion. Many athletes who have CTE may have suffered from one concussion in their entire career. Meanwhile, others like Mike Webster suffered hundreds or thousands blows to the head over decades. We should focus more on the number of blows received to the heads among boxers, footballers and so on.

P.T. Please, talk to us about the physical and emotional damages that CTE causes.

Dr. O. CTE robs your intellect from you, which is what makes you a human being. In other words, it robs you from yourself. The mind is gone. It represents an emotional debilitating disease. It prevents you from becoming what you were meant to be as a person. It acts as a very painful disease not only for the sufferer but also for the loved ones. Other psychiatric pathologies have a similar impact. CTE damages the mental faculties, and is a gradual and degenerative disease. Furthermore, athletes other than football players can get it.

Overall, the consequences of CTE are: suicide (for example, there are Iraqi war veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder who committed suicide), murder or both (for instance, WWE wrestler Chris Benoit killed himself and his wife), depression, suicide attempts, suicide ideation or inclination, mood disorders, drug abuse, cognitive impairments (such as disorientation), acting out, etc.

P.T. What can be done for an athlete who already has a concussion or CTE? Is there a way to slow the deterioration of the brain with medication, etc.?

Dr. O. Well, if you suffer from brain damage, you need to see a physician who will refer you to a neurologist who is an expert in brain trauma. They can prescribe drugs to manage the pathology by controlling the symptoms. Depending on the severity of the case, you might also have to see other specialists such as a neuropsychiatrist. Again, no drugs will cure the patient. People need to know that. The best cure is prevention.

P.T. In 2011, the two foremost and governing professional pediatrics associations in North America, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society, published a position paper urging that kids should no longer be allowed to engage in high-impact contact sports like boxing, because these athletic activities harm their developing brains. What happened since then and did you see improvements regarding the awareness of the risks?

Dr. O. Doctors continue to inform the public of the dangers of these sports. As human beings, we tend to conform. Society has allowed sport to occupy a very prominent position and an important role in our lives. Unfortunately, sometimes we engage in self-destructing behaviors as a society. Change takes time and does not manifest easily. However, I believe that the reality of the risks will prevail in the collective psyche, even if it takes a long time. It might be the next generation who will recognize the damage caused by high impact contact sports. Hopefully, communal awareness will happen sooner. I remain patient, optimistic and positive. It may be a long walk but we will get there. I maintain my position that no young people under the age of eighteen should be involved in these sports.

P.T. Do you think a law (regarding minors) should be made like cigarettes?

Dr. O. Definitely! It took a long time for the population to know about the dangers of cigarettes and some individuals still deny the dangers of it.

P.T. In Time magazine you said: “There are no rules that say we must play football the way it’s played today. Remember, how we play football still is not how we played 40 years ago”. While I researched you to prepare this interview, it seems that you never had to autopsy female athletes who played high impact contact sports such as football and boxing. Am I right? If so, are women playing these sports more safely and is there a more secure way to practice these sports to prevent brain injuries?

Dr. O. Women have started to play these sports much more recently compared to men. So, it is still too soon to have an idea of what is going on with the female gender in high contact sports. I do not think there has been much exposure to injuries that would create brain damage among female athletes. Very few women engage in high contact sports. In addition, generally speaking, females are less violent than men. So, when they are playing there is much less chance that they will generate the same kind of violent energy as males. However, in some sports like soccer, women can have higher prevalence of concussions. Once, I autopsied a female wrestler who had symptoms of CTE. Unfortunately, she had decomposed so I could do nothing with her brain. Her body was found three days after her death. Nobody knew she had passed away. So, at this stage it is not wise to make any conclusions regarding females in high contact sports given that the data is really scarce. . I do no want more women to play these sports just to increase their prevalence or for any other reasons. The only safe way to play these games is to avoid head contact, but sometimes that is not possible, especially for sports such as boxing,

P.T. Your discovery of CTE in football changed the course of your life. How do you assess this? I mean, what are the advantages and inconveniences of fame in your opinion?

Dr. O. I would not recommend fame to anybody because it robs your life of who you were. I do not have privacy like before. I did not seek to become a public figure. In other words, I was not looking for it. It is something that happened to me. I did not expect that one day I would not live an anonymous life anymore. I did not foresee this outcome. FAME can attract people who dislike or hate you. As a Christian, this experience exposed me to the wickedness of mankind. I did nothing wrong but unfortunately there are people who still call me names and so on. Like I said many times, I wish I never met Mike Webster. I wish that the day I did the autopsy, I had called in sick and stayed at home.

P.T. [Laughs out loud].

Dr. O. [Laughs out loud] I wish that I could go back in the past and change my life regarding Webster. I need to accept that this happened but I would not wish it upon someone else. This experience had a huge impact on my life. Someone told me that certain people wish for things desperately and it does not come to them; instead it happens to those who hardly think about it [chuckles].

P.T. I doubt that all these experiences were a coincidence. The discovery of CTE in football had to be done by someone who was highly prepared and trained. You started school at three and entered medical school at sixteen. It was certainly your destiny or fate.

Dr. O. Someone told me that once. Precisely, he said that law or luck finds the prepared mind. I never wished that strangers at the airport, grocery stores or any other place would approach me and ask me if I am what they think I am. Some stare at me as if I did something wrong. Others will say: “you are the concussion doctor, can I take a picture?” or “may I give you a hug?”. It can disrupt my life. It is not always easy to handle. However, the pluses in this situation are the fact that it improves lives and generated awareness. Families and the individuals who have been affected can at least understand what is going on. I was told my discovery brought light to darkness. I received many letters and e-mails where people shared positive outcomes. Thanks to my discovery, there can be a child whose parents will not let him play football. So, in terms of prevention it is very positive. More and more people’s mindsets are changing about high contact sports. To me, the good things are not about me but about what is happening in people’s lives. I want people to be healthy and live their existence to the fullest.

P.T. Why was it important for you to write the memoir Truth Doesn’t Have a Side? Was it a cathartic experience and how long did it took you to pen it? In addition, there are no pictures in your memoir. Why did you decide to make that choice?

Dr. O. Writing a memoir was not really my choice. A very prominent agent in the publishing industry reached out to me. He suggested meeting me for lunch. He said to me, “Bennett, I watched some of your interviews with Will Smith and your speeches. There is something missing in the movie and the book Concussion.” I asked him what. He said, “your faith. I can tell that you are a man of deep faith. Not just a Sunday Christian. You are an everyday Christian. You need to share that with the world. I believe that your book can inspire people to improve their own lives.” I was open to his idea because I felt that I could share my faith more thoroughly on paper. He put me in contact with a big publishing company. I signed the contract and it took me about six months to write the book. I penned a couple of hours daily. I wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages. I sent them to an editor who helped me to summarize information and compress it to less than 400 pages.

P.T. Your original manuscript was longer.

Dr. O. Oh yes, it was like three times the length of the book.

P.T [Laughs]

Dr. O. [Laughs out loud] It was definitely useful to collaborate with a professional writer. He made sure that the entire content flowed and as mentioned he condensed the information. I do not believe that science and faith are antagonistic. The publishing house and I believed that my faith could bring light while inspiring readers. The more I learn about science the more I am convinced that there is a higher power. As an author, I wanted to share this.

P.T. When I read your memoir, I realized that the movie could have been three hours long. So many aspects of your life are fascinating. It would have been awesome for instance in the motion picture to show you starting the school at three and later enter medical school at sixteen.

Dr. O. Again, I decided to write to inspire people and a book can contain much more content than a movie. My book is about the everyday experiences of life that we are dealing with, how I managed my own existence, in other words how I navigated through it. You don’t need to have what you want to reach where you want to be. Firstly, assess who you are and what is available to you. Look for how it can work in tandem. In other words, see how you can put together what you are aiming for and what is accessible to you. You might wish for something that will never materialize. So, it is important to be careful with that. You need to create your own blueprint. It is important to avoid rigidity. It may happen for instance that you have to reassess your path and this is fine. You are allowed to make adjustments.

It was a healing experience to pen the book. I felt surprise to discover the amount of information that flowed the moment I commenced to write. I experienced shock and amazement to see how much events were ingrained in my memory. Sometimes, I woke up at 3 AM and I started writing in my office. It was unbelievable and definitely a good experience. The publishing house made the decision to leave pictures out of the book.. I gave them the discretion about it. They are the professionals and they felt that the text was sufficient. The publisher sensed that my words were enough to convey any story and identity.

P.T. Without giving too much away, what can future readers expect from Will Smith’s preface for your upcoming book? Moreover, in my knowledge it is the first time that Will Smith wrote a foreword for anybody. What does this fact mean to you?

Dr. O. [Laughs out loud] Will Smith is a deeply intelligent man. His foreword is profound and powerful. It exhibits the contradictions of America that loves football. The preface and the rest of the book will help readers to better understand who we are as Americans. The foreword is really impactful. Will Smith read the book and the content inspired him thereafter to pen a formidable preface.

About what it means to me, I am a man without affectation. I am not a male who thinks he is somebody with a big ego or a big head. When I met Will Smith, I think he saw that in me. I would not be surprised that this personality trait was one of the reasons that made him decide to portray me in the movie.
I am a Christian and everything that I do is with the intention to enhance the life of another person. Again, when I met Will [Smith], I wanted to share my life and my faith with him. I also hoped that my story would inspire other people who want to achieve their own dreams. I think Will [Smith] felt that I had no agenda and expectations. He sensed my sincerity and genuineness. I have the feeling that he was touched by my transparency. I respect him a lot and I feel very lucky that our paths met. I am honored!

P.T. In your book, you wrote that the message transmitted in the movie The Insider is more accepted by the public compared to the one conveyed by Concussion. In addition, you mentioned to the media that the damage to the brain done by boxing is more “welcomed’’ than football. How do you explain this?

Dr. O. I believe it is because of our conformational intelligence of football. We believe that football is a patriotic game that provides the heart of our identity as Americans. And, how dare a foreign Nigerian, a no name doctor comes and tells us Americans how to live our lives.

P.T. [Chuckles]

Dr. O. Some people were arrogant. It was part of the problems I met. The truth may be inconvenient to some. The truth about cigarettes was more convenient than football and concussion.

P.T. Even with cigarettes, it took a lot of time for people to acknowledge the risks.

Dr. O. In my opinion, it was an easier journey. Even the movie The Insider was more accepted.

P.T. Oddly, I did not see it (even if I think that Russell Crowe is a great actor) but I will.

Dr. O. It is a great movie but not as great as Concussion [Laughs].

P.T. [Laughs out loud].

Dr. O. The concussion issue was perceived as a cultural identity crisis. A collective and corporation denial occurred. The journey to the truth was not easy. Everything structural in a society can become a hurdle. Systemically and systematically, society is susceptible to creating impediments. Sometimes, it happens consciously or unconsciously. When someone like me arrives and unintentionally rocks the boat with a discovery, it might bother certain people because this situation changes the status quo. I truly thought at the beginning that my finding would be welcomed given that it was about the safety of athletes. I was not aware of all the intricacies that would be involved.

P.T. As mentioned, you started school at the age of three and medical school at sixteen. You wrote in your book that you sometimes felt overwhelmed, which is completely understandable. Did you ever take a sabbatical or think of doing it eventually?

Dr. O. I dropped out of medical school once for a couple of months. I had an experience in this epoch where I ended up in my room very lonely while crying. During my youth, I dreamed of becoming a pilot. So, in the course of this sabbatical, it was a time for soul searching for me. I felt a voice and a spirit within me letting me know that life is not meant for resting. Having an idle existence or even taking sabbaticals was not an option. It reminded me that life is a battle. You need to continue fighting until you take your last breath. To me, it is an onus. Once, you take your last breath, you are allowed to rest forever and eternally. [Chuckles]. So, again taking a sabbatical was not an option for me. However, I started something five years ago. Every summer for two weeks, I take my family on a vacation. I do nothing during these times. We go to Dubai, the West Indies, Europe, etc. It is enough for me to recharge my batteries. This is my sabbatical [laughs]. During my adolescence, when I went back to school, it was clearer that I felt it was best for me to pursue my medical studies.

P.T. I am convinced that the vacations you are taking with your family will be one of your best reminiscences. I will always remember the first time I took the plane with my parents and how happy I was at the age of 6. I am sure your children will cherish these memories.

P.T. Before the filming, were there rehearsals and were you present for giving advice? For the movie Concussion, did Will Smith need a coach to have your accent or you did you give him tips?

Dr. O. I was the technical consultant of the movie. I was involved in every phase of the film’s production. I worked closely with Will Smith in every aspect including the accent. I won’t go into the details for corporate reasons but I provided him all the information he needed to portray me. I opened my home to him. He met my family.

P.T. Based on what you can share with us, how involved were you in the film-making process? Did you participate in the screenwriting, were you on set, etc.? In addition, Will Smith saw how you work to deliver the most authentic portrayal of yourself. Can you elaborate about that?

Dr. O. I was on set for specific scenes. Regarding the script, I spent time with the writer. I was interviewed extensively for many days by the screenwriter. We had several one on one encounters.

Will Smith accompanied me at work and observed several autopsies. This helped him to portray me in the most authentic way and allowed him to give credibility and realism on how I conduct post-mortem dissections. Again, I worked with him very closely to give him all the information (related to medicine, etc.) required and everything he needed to do his work. I definitely made myself available to assist him.

P.T. What did you think of how Will Smith portrayed you and how Gugu Raw played the role of your wife?

Dr. O. I consider that they did a phenomenal job. I may not appear objective but I believe Will Smith deserved at least an Oscar nomination. His high caliber performance was definitely an Oscar worthy. He did much better work than I anticipated. Gugu [Raw] also did a great job. The movie was Oscar worthy.

P.T. I agree! What does it mean to you that Will Smith got a Golden Globe nomination for playing you and how was the experience of being at this award?

Dr. O. It was a great experience! Will Smith is one of the top actors in the history of cinema. With my spouse, I sat beside Will Smith, his wife and one of their sons. We felt blessed that I was portrayed by such a talented and great man. I learned a lot from him. I felt privileged to have the opportunity to spend time with such a highly accomplished man and woman. I am really thankful because there is so much to learn from people like that. It is another form of education in itself. Again, Will Smith is among the top actors in the history of movie making. I highly respect him. I spent time with him, I spoke to him, I listened to him, I watched him and I observed him. It brought positivity to my life and gave it another dimension of looking at the future. It changed my perspective. One of the best human traits is humility in my opinion. When you embrace humbleness, it is more natural to listen to other people. You are more open to see things through the perspective of other people. This is what I observe of Will Smith. He has remained a simple man in spite of all his accomplishments.

P.T. I would not be surprised that it is the trait that most celebrities who achieved longevity have.

Dr. O. Probably! Will Smith is a good man with a great heart. As much as possible, he sees the goodness in other people. A good sign is when a celebrity treats their team well. When this happens, the team will be very loyal to him/her. They will work for long periods with him/her.

P.T. I heard that since the beginning of Will Smith’s acting career, he knew the lines of his colleagues so when they forgot their words, Will Smith helped them by whispering to them the words. If this is true, it means that he has a team work spirit and it demonstrates generosity. This can definitely be one of the factors which explains his longevity in show business. Very few people in the entertainment business have a great musical and acting career. In addition, very few make it after living a group or a duo in the music business.

Dr. O. Interesting! I noticed that people who surround Will Smith have a great sense of joy. He exudes a well-being and happiness that is contagious. The whole place lights up around him. I spent at least several months with him during the shooting and the promotion of the movie. It was a great experience for me and I am lucky. We became friends. The Golden Globe was a great experience and again a privilege even if he did not win. Will Smith was disappointed not for him but for me. He expressed precisely that he wished he would win for me regarding what I done.

P.T. It would have sent a strong message worldwide about the importance of philanthropy, likewise for the Oscars. Even if Will Smith did not win, portraying you expanded his acting caliber. His scope is wider now.

Dr. O. I reiterate that Will [Smith] uttered he wanted to win for the importance of the work I did. And of course, I wanted him to win for the phenomenal job he did. In spite of this disenchantment, I thank God for my blessings and the opportunity of meeting Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett, who I consider like a princess. She is smart, gorgeous and a lovely woman.

P.T. I have followed the couple’s careers for decades: since the late eighties for Will Smith and since A Different World for Jada Pinkett.

Dr. O. They are highly talented and creative people. I had the opportunity to fly on a private jet with Will Smith.

P.T. Wow!

Dr. O. It was a very impressive experience! What a blessing and I thank God for that! [Laughs out loud]

P.T. [Laughs]

P.T. You created a foundation named after you to advance CTE and concussion research. Can you elaborate on its mission, etc.? In addition, what realizations were done so far and what are the next objectives you want to accomplish? Will the percentage of the profits of your upcoming book be used for your foundation?

Dr. O. I did not create the foundation. What happened was that some people formed the organization (to advance CTE and concussion research) and named it after me. I did not want to but they said I had no choice. Once it was created, some people came after me. They started to attack me, to make accusations toward me just because there was a foundation. They began to ask me for documents, etc.

P.T. This looks like envy and jealousy!

Dr. O. I do not know what it is. But this represents one of the disadvantages of becoming more well-known. I attract unwanted attention by some questionable individuals. I am a Christian and a humble man. I am not seeking or coveting status, success and money. When I realized that the creation of the foundation brought problems, I concluded that it was not worth it. The foundation closed last year.

P.T. I am sorry to hear this.

P.T. It can be difficult for some physicians to obtain a residency and a fellowship. What are the best recommendations you can give?

Dr. O. You have to make sure that you are a brand to yourself and the best version of you. Do not let anybody (school professor and so on) tell you who you are, otherwise you give them power over your destiny. You are the driver of your future. Once you established who you are, I believe that everything will fall in line. When you do not get what you want, step back. Look at what is available to you. Work with it and try to create value from it.

Networking is important for building strong professional relationships because these people will share their knowledge, experience and will be in a position to write strong letters of recommendations, likewise for professors in academic settings. Having mentors is useful. Make sure that you seek valuable experiences such as working in labs, making clinical research and so on to develop a strong résumé and credentials.

I also believe that whatever the goal you are aiming for, you must keep a positive attitude. A negative mentality is like a handicap that will prevent you from accomplishing your dreams. A lot of things start in the mind. You cannot make it without the right mindset. Sometimes throughout the journey you will have failures. You must not become permanently defeated. You need to learn what went wrong to make sure to not repeat the same mistakes. Learn from the process. Do not find excuses to not go forward. Again, surround yourself as much as possible with mentors, people who accomplished what you are aiming for because these experienced individuals will be able to guide you. You also need to be around people who believe in you because they will play the role of your cheerleaders.

P.T. What is your advice to help foreign students (in any field) to adapt and succeed in America?

Dr. O. I think when you arrive to the U.S., you need to adapt to the American culture and way of life. This can even begin before you arrive here. If it is financially possible, manage to visit here to take the pulse before you make a more permanent decision. It is important to understand the culture here. Do not blame Americans.

I do not support Trump but I hope that he will become a more inclusive president. Inclusiveness is the climate I found when I arrived here. Right now, I believe that Trump does not represent what America was when I grew up in Nigeria. But I won’t condemn Trump. Objectively, I can contest him but I will leave emotions out of it. In other words, I will not start calling him names.

I also think that if you go to the U.S. and you have a long difficult name for Americans to pronounce, shorten your name. I did that. My original name is longer. In fact, my family name, Omalu, is a shortened form of the last name, Onyemalukwube, which means "he (she) who knows, speak". In addition, it is important to work on the accent and grammar. I have an accent but people can understand me. I also worked on it by listening to the American media and reading books.

Learn about American social codes, social metrics and mentality. For instance, Americans tend to be gay meaning happy people. Many are very exuberant. Learn the American swagger. In some cultures, it is not well perceived to talk about your accomplishments because it will be seen as bragging but in America you should do this in interviews (for example) to set yourself apart from other candidates and to show what you will bring on the table. You need to learn the main tools to adapt your résumé to this culture.

I believe it is also important to seize the American sense of humor. Some are based on historical precedents. Sometimes, I do not fully understand the jokes here which need to be explained to me especially when they are founded on historic events that I do not know about. So, I do not tell jokes and prefer to stay away from them to avoid hurting sensibilities. [[Chuckles]

P.T. [[Laughs] And you are friends with Will Smith, who is hilarious? This means you are able to understand jokes.

Dr. O. [Chuckles]

P.T. I think the way he expresses himself is universal because when he was a rapper in the 80s I could understand his lyrics and humor even if I had only just mastered the Shakespeare language at the time. But seriously, I know what you mean. To grasp jokes you need to comprehend the subtleties and nuances of the language. This may be more difficult for a foreigner.

Dr. O. It requires an understanding of the social dynamics of this country and newcomers have to embrace it. There are no perfect countries or people. In fact, no population in this world is perfect. I believe Americans are good people. They are not perfect but I respect them.

P.T. For future physicians who want to embrace your specialties, can you talk about the qualities required to become a pathologist, a neuropathologist and a forensic pathologist?

Dr. O. A good forensic pathologist is confident and comfortable with who you are. They are bold in the way they think. You need to have the courage to go against the status quo and the establishment. Someone who is a conformist or who has a desire to belong to any group, endeavor, or way of thinking, won’t become a good forensic pathologist. If you are afraid of being shamed, of making a mistake, it won’t work either. A good forensic pathologist learns to be him/herself, knows how to speak his/her truth distinctly and calmly.

A neuropathologist should possess a broader understanding of the world around him/her. With the information technology in the 21st century, you cannot focus solely on your expertise. It won’t be sustainable. You need to be versatile and multidimensional in skill sets (this remains true for any field in medicine). I think it can be useful to read books or take classes on coding and software for instance. This will add another dimension to your mind with a new setting of mental assets. This expands your IQ and actually broadens your intellect. Regarding neuropathology, the science of the brain is important but also the social aspects, in other words a more global perspective is required.

A good pathologist must be able to conduct in-depth analyses with thorough critical thinking. He needs skills in complex problem solving, coordination, time management, quality control analysis, strong visual memory, etc. Attention to details with a solid methodological approach is important. Great writing skills are also crucial because pathologists must write strong and clear reports. It can definitely help to have additional abilities such as knowledge in computers and electronics.

My multidimensional education gives me options. I believe it can become an asset for anybody because for example if a physician is bored with his/her specialty he/she can find his/her way to another one that is more appealing to him/her. For my part, I can navigate from epidemiology to business management, etc. I won’t get stuck in one field. Do not limit yourself

P.T. You have a holistic approach which is crucial in medicine.

Dr. O. Definitely! When I mentor younger people, I tell them about the importance of having a global view or perspective. I even tell them that they cannot afford to become only ultra-specialists. Contemplating multiple facets is important in any fields. Some businesses have failed because they have neglected that fact. Being polyvalent allows to remain competitive.

P.T. Thank you for this great interview! I wish you a lot of success with your book and beyond.

Dr. O. Thank you and I think you are really brilliant.

P.T. I take this as a great compliment coming from a highly educated physician like you!

 

The movie Concussion and the books Truth Doesn’t Have a Side, A Historical Foundation of CTE in Football Players with Play Hard, Die Young are available on amazon.com, .ca and .co.uk

Most Recent Medical Certifications and Qualifications:

- Board Certification in Medical Management
Certified Physician Executive [CPE]
Certifying Commission in Medical Management
American College of Physician Executives, February 2011

- Board Certification in Neuropathology (NP)
Diplomate, American Board of Pathology
American Board of Pathology, September 2005.

- Board Certification in Forensic Pathology (FP) 

Diplomate, American Board of Pathology
American Board of Pathology, November 2004.

Most Recent Professional and Post-Graduate Education and Training:

Masters in Business Administration
Tepper School of Business
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (August 2005 – May 2008)

Masters in Public Health: Epidemiology
Graduate School of Public Health
University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (June 2002 – April 2004)

Fellowship training in Neuropathology,
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.( July 2000 - June 2002)

Fellowship training in Forensic Pathology,
Allegheny County Coroner’s Office
University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (July 1999 - June 2000)

Selected Professional Medical Affiliations and Memberships:

Member, American College of Physician Executives, 2006 – present
Member, American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], 2005 – present
Fellow, College of American Pathologists (CAP), 1995 – present
Fellow, American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP), 1995 – present
Member, American Association of Neuropathologists (AANP), 2002 – present
Member, California Society of Pathologists, 2015 – present
Member, San Joaquin Medical Society, 2009 – present
Member, California Medical Society, 2009 – present

Selected Appointments:

Chief Medical Examiner, Washington, D.C. Appointed on October 11, 2013. Declined Offer
Member, NFL Players Association Concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, December 2009 – 2012
Clinical Professor of Pathology, Department of Pathology, University of California, Davis, March 2012 – July 2013
Associate Physician Diplomate, Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of California-Davis Medical Center, March 2012 – July 2013
Associate Clinical Professor of Pathology, Department of Pathology, University of California, Davis, May 2008 – January 2012
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Pathology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 2010 – 2012

Selected Post-Graduate Medical Teaching Experiences:

Mentoring and teaching residents and medical Students and covering the autopsy service, and forensic neuropathology service, Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of California at Davis, March 2012 – July 2013.

Microscopy sessions and slides review, residents and medical students, Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of California at Davis, September 2013 to present.

Forensic pathology and neuropathology grand round lectures, internal medicine, family practice and surgery residents, San Joaquin General Hospital, French Camp, California, 2009 – 2012.

Forensic neuropathology brain cutting workshops for pathology residents and fellows, University of California at Davis, Department of Pathology, 2009 – 2013.

Research Grant :

$24, 750.00 grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation for a research project on Loss of heterozygosity as predictors of grade and outcome in meningiomas in collaboration with John Lee, M.D. University of Pittsburgh.

$200,000.00 grant from The Hazel Ruby Mcquain Charitable Trust, West Virginia to the Brain Injury Research Institute, for research into Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, 2010-2011.

Selected Journal Editorial and Peer Review Experiences:

Reviewer, Nigerian Journal of Clinical Practice, February, 2011 to present
Reviewer, Nigerian Journal of Surgery, October 2011
Reviewer, The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, April 2012
Reviewer, The Journal of Forensic Nursing, June 2009, October 2012, February 2013

Selected Consulting and Peer Review Assignments:

Consulting Forensic Neuropathologist, Medical Examiner’s Office, Allegheny County, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January, 2011.
Consulting Forensic Neuropathologist, Medical Examiner’s Office, County of Summit, Akron, Ohio. October, 2011.
Consulting Forensic Neuropathologist, American Forensics, Dallas, Texas. October, 2011.
Consulting Forensic Neuropathologist, Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner, Clark County, Las Vegas, Nevada, September 2007 – December 2012
Consulting Forensic Neuropathologist, Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner, Washoe County, Reno, Nevada, 2009 – present

Congressional Hearing and Testimonies:

One Hundred Eleventh Congress, Congress of the United States, House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Field Hearing: Legal Issues Relating to Football Head Injuries, Part II, Monday, January 4th, 2010.
One Hundred Eleventh Congress, Congress of the United States, House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, Judiciary Forum: Head and Other Injuries in Youth, High School, College and Professional Football, Monday, February 1, 2010.

Selected Honors, Awards, Recognition and Achievements: 

World Health Organization Research scholar Award, Cancer Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington. October 1994 - June 1995.
Honorable Mention, House Staff Research Fair, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University at Harlem Hospital Center, New York, for: An Immunohistochemical Profile of Tumor Associated Antigens in Malignant Melanoma and Benign Melanocytic Nevi: CD44, p53 protein, Cathepsin B, Melan-A Gene Product. April 1998.
Laboratory Inspector, College of American Pathologist (CAP), Stanford University, November 2002.
Harlem Hospital Residency Program Liaison, American Society of Clinical Pathologists, July 1997 - June 1999

Selected Invited Lectureships and Talks:

“The forensic pathology of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in American Athletes: the journey thus far.” Advanced Education Seminar, Lakewood Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, Speakers Bureau Member, Dallas, Texas, January 23, 2010.
“Emerging Technology in the Evaluation and Treatment of Concussion”. 2010 Advanced Team Physician Course, American College of Sports Medicine, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine and American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine. Washington, DC, December 10, 2010.
“Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in American Athletes”. Visiting Professor, Grand Rounds, University of California, San Francisco, Department of Neurology, Memory and Aging Center, March 11, 2011.
CTE: A Historical Perspective- Pathological Overview and Taupathy. Mild Head Injury, Concussion, and Return to Activities: Update 2013. Symposium, Friday, January 25, 2013. The University of Chicago, Section of Neurosurgery, Department of Surgery. The University of Chicago Gleacher Center, 450 North Cityfront Plaza Drive. Chicago, Illinois.

Selected Bibliography:

Truth Doesn’t Have A Side, (2017) Dr. Bennett Omalu M.D
Play Hard, Die Young, (2008) Dr. Bennett Omalu M.D
A Historical Foundation of CTE in Football Players, (2014) Dr.  Bennett Omalu M.D

Omalu, B. ‘’Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Concussion’’, Niranjan A and Lunsford LD eds. Progress in Neurological Surgery, Vol. 28. Karger, New York, New York, 2014. 4.
Omalu, B. ‘’Neuropathology of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy’’ in Handbook of Neurological Sports Medicine, Concussion and Other Nervous System Injuries in the Athlete. Petraglia AL, Bailes JE, Day AL eds. Human Kinetics, Champaign, Illinois, 2015.
Koehler SA, Ladham S, Rozin L, Shakir A, Omalu B, Dominick J, Wecht CH. The risk of body packing: a case of a fatal cocaine overdose. Forensic Sci Int. 2005 Jun 30;151(1):81-4
Omalu BI, Dekosky ST Minster RL, Kamboh MI,.Hamilton, R, Wecht CH. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player. Neurosurgery. 2005 Jul;57(1):128- 34
Omalu BI, Cho P, Shakir AM, Agumadu UH, Rozin L, Kuller LH, Wecth CH. Suicides following bariatric surgery for the treatment of obesity. Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases. 2005 Jul-Aug;1(4):447-449
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