Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Having a Greater Appreciation For Your Health

Late August into September represents the beginning of a new school year for children of all ages. As I’ve grown from childhood to now becoming a “potential” senior (my age might say one thing but the way I actually feel tells me that I’m not quite there yet) I’ve come to my own conclusions on the facts of life (especially my own). Looking back, I am thankful for the choices I made to be active and to participate in various sports prompting me to move and be active as oppose to being sedentary. Those choices to be active long ago continue to influence me to this very day. If I could change one thing about my early journey to share with others especially young people I would say I wish the educational process of learning about my own body and how everything is connected to function appropriately had occurred in my more formative years.  To learn about the role of my heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, muscles throughout my body and especially my brain earlier in life would have given me a certain perspective to a greater appreciation for my body.

When I go to the gym I always devote 15 to 20 minutes stretching before doing any exercise or doing any type of cardio program. During those 15 - 20 minutes I twist and bend my torso from an upright position to sitting on the floor pulling my upper body to my ankle, during my stretch time I become re-acquainted with the skin and cells in my legs, ankles and feet. That time devoted to stretching gives me an opportunity to meditate but also focus on areas of my body that I very seldom focus my attention on until there is some kind of pain that demands me to focus my attention in those areas. I often wonder in amazement of how our bodies have evolved and how every organ in our body works in connection with other organs to make us as human beings function. Its interesting that during those moments stretching and viewing those skin cells I never focus on ordinarily it becomes clear to me those cells and the billions or trillions of other cells make up the person I am.

Having played with the New York Football Giants and been Team Captain for 10 years many of my former Teammates call me their "Captain for Life” when we played many years ago. After more than 25 years those Teammates still consider me their “Captain for Life” today. In reality we are all our own Captains for matters pertaining to our lives.  More importantly I consider myself to be the Chief Executive Officer of my own life. In essence, I am responsible for every thing that involves me, from managing those skin cells I never focus on to what I ingest to regulate my own weight management. No matter who you are, you are a Captain for Life and the Chief Executive Officer of your own life. You are responsible for you and your life! No one, not even the parents who gave you life and brought you into the world can care for you better than you. As such, you must learn as early as possible how your body works and what it needs to maintain its optimum best to allow you to live your life to the fullest.

I’m not a doctor but I am an “expert" on my own life. I would like to share several basic things I’ve done or haven’t done to get where I am on my life’s journey.

  • Be active! Don’t be afraid to move and work up a sweat.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated and to regenerate cell growth throughout your body.
  • Watch your diet. Eat foods low in sodium, sugar and fat.
  • Make quality time available to rest. 
  • Make a choice to not smoke cigarettes.
  • If you know that something (drug or activity) could be unhealthy stay away from it.
  • Listen to your body. If you feel something is off with your system, consult your physician.
  • Learn your family’s medical history. 
  • Be truthful in discussing your health with your doctor.
  • Remember you are your own “Captain for Life”/CEO.  Take charge of your body and manage your own well being. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Meridian Health - Healthy Challenge Commercial

Meridian Health aims to influence the communities we serve to take control and improve their health as we believe that life should not only be longer but also more dynamic and fulfilling. Being Tuned in to Your Health is our way of packaging our health and wellness initiatives to help you live a healthier and happier lifestyle.

Challenge a Friend to a Healthy Competition
Follow the lead of NFL Hall of Famer, Harry Carson and 4-time Olympic Medalist, Christie Rampone! Together with a friend, set some goals, get active and start eating better. Then encourage one another to stick with it. Do it every day and you both win.

Hashtag #MeridianHealthyChallenge to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and 'SHARE' with us on how you're challenging your friends and family to a healthy competition. 

Some examples are running a race, healthy diet goals, or trying new physical activities.

Follow this page for more information -- http://bit.ly/1kLTR2n

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Elevating the Discussion

In late May of this year the President of the United States of America convened a summit of  more than 200 medical professionals, Commissioners of various college and professional sports team, professional athletes, families members of athletes and even Owners of Professional Sports Teams for anin-depth discussion on Youth Sports Concussions. While the purpose was to learn more about concussions, a major purpose of the President’s summit was to make parents more aware of the risks of contact sports like football,soccer, hockey, lacrosse and even cheerleading.

Personally I have been talking about this subject for more than 25 years. So, it’s not a subject that I don’t know but during those times many of my friends and associates thought I was out of my mind to be so persistent in talking about the brain, the damage that might have accompanied the hits on the field and the possible long term effects of concussions. Some of them thought I was essentially cutting my own throat in regard to my relationship with the National Football League and the New York Football Giants.  15, 10 or even 2 years ago discussing aloud an issue like concussions was not smart nor “cool” especially because over time information on what the NFL knew and didn’t know regarding traumatic brain injuries and concussions presented the League in a not so favorable light. Diagnosed with the lingering effects of concussions over 25 years ago I had to educate myself on the subject as well as educate other players who have played the game, sustained "dings" but never knew that those "dings" were actually concussions even though they never lost consciousness.  Many former players, even guys I played with when I was with the Giants were concerned about me and my state of mind/health. Now some of those same players are coming forward sharing with me neurological issues they are now experiencing after long being removed from football.

I consider myself an Observer of Life. One of the gifts of that trait is having an opportunity to spend an abundance of time observing many of the men who preceded me and my contemporaries on the football field. As that “Observer” I see many former players health deteriorate, fall into decline and eventually pass away from many different causes. What alarms me is the number of former players who in their later life suffered from neurological abnormalities that led to dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately as these players age and become less well known for what they did on the football field when they passed away their passing gets very little attention. The “Observer” in me tells me that players of my era and later will have to eventually face the same fate as those who came before us.

I was pleased last year when Mr. Obama stated “If I had a son I would have to think long and hard about allowing my son to play football.” I have to admit that I never dreamed that this subject would be elevated to the status of the President of the United States personally getting involved, at least in my lifetime. But, I am pleased at the level of the discussion on one of the realities of contact sports, mild traumatic brain injuries. I feel it is urgently important for parents to understand the "risks" involved in playing games that involve the head or brain possibly being injured. I’ve said this over and over that if you attend a football game on any level you learn very quickly that there is a chance someone could get hurt physically. What very seldom is talked about is the risk that an injury to the brain can cause. As a society or as sports fans we never focused on it before but we all should now know that it is a very real possibility. And if that injury to the brain is severe enough there is no way of truly understanding the long term effects of that condition.

I applaud the effort to bring a greater awareness of concussions to the public's attention understanding that the focus is on youth sports safety. As much as I appreciate increasing that awareness and developing more technologically advanced helmets and equipment to make playing the game safer I know very little is being done to help players who have already played and have no clue what they signed up for before the word “concussion” became vogueor a “hot button” topic and one that both the NFL and the Giants have embraced and have acknowledged by providing millions of dollars for research. As much as the push is on to save sports like football and hockey for future generations, where is the effort to help those concussed or “dinged” athletes who want to live a better quality of life after the damage has already been done?


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Listening to that Inner Voice…

Sometimes you never know what life has in store for you. I found out first hand when my own personal health issues played out several months ago. At a time when my focus was on my wife and me celebrating our wedding anniversary I was confronted with a possible life threatening condition.

After extensive traveling by plane and car earlier this year for business as well as pleasure I was surprised to suffer pain in my right calf early one morning as I was walking up stairs in my home. I didn’t do anything strenuous to aggravate my calf, it just happened.

As it turned out I did not have a heavy schedule on that day so I decided to lie down, watch television and relax until the pain subsided. Keep in mind that I played professional football for 13 years and with high school and college ball 21 years, so I naturally developed a very high tolerance for pain having sustained an assortment of ankle sprains, hyper extended knees and elbows. Throughout those years of playing I had been trained to tolerate pain. Not just to tolerate it but to play games with pain on Sunday afternoons was like wearing a badge of honor. As the day was wearing on the pain eased a little but I was still having a problem just standing independent of holding on to something to maintain my balance.

During the course of the day I shrugged my wife's suggestions to go to the hospital. I kept saying I'm okay, it will be alright. But at some point I started to think that it was strange to have a severe cramp like I thought I had last for the better part of the day. At that point I began to wonder if it was something more than what I was thinking it was. It was at that time that I had to shed the whole football tough guy mindset. So I got up, shaved and got dressed. When my wife saw me, she asked me "where are you going?" I replied, "I’m going to the hospital's emergency room”. I was so certain that all was well that I stopped at my dry cleaners to pick up clothes I had dropped off the previous week to be cleaned. The trip to the emergency room was a “it's better to be safe than sorry” trip to ease my own mind.

When we arrived and checked in I described my symptoms to the doctor on call. He ordered an ultra sound that showed I had developed blood clots in my leg. With that diagnosis I immediately lost the smile that I had on my face when I was first wheeled into the emergency room. He then requested an MRI of my chest. When that test was completed I was informed that I had a double dose of trouble with clots in my lungs as well. Wow! You could have knocked me over with a feather!  With the diagnosis it became abundantly clear to me that I was a mere mortal and not the Superman I had a tendency to feel like when I was on the football field many years ago. It was quickly setting in that if had I done nothing and stayed in bed, the possibility of having a stroke or heart attack was very real. I began to think of NBC Newsman David Bloom who died as a result of being in very cramped quarters of a tank as he was embedded with troops during the invasion of Iraq. I also thought of former defensive end Dwight White one fourth of the famed Pittsburgh Steelers "Steel Curtain" defense of the 1970s who also passed away several years ago as a result of blood clots in his lungs.

I feel very fortunate that for once I was wise enough to listen to the better sense in me to go to the hospital to be better safe than sorry! Most men are born with a stubborn gene that prohibits us from asking for directions when we are obviously lost. That gene also makes old football players like me "suck it up" and not acknowledge when we are in pain or in need of help.

I am happy to report that with some lifestyle changes (like stopping more often to stretch my legs when going on very long car trips) and blood thinning medication for about the next 6 months my doctors and I expect me to make a full recovery.

I share my personal experience with you for one major reason. I hope many of the men who read this article listen to their own bodies when they are in distress or in pain. What might seem minor initially could end up being something that we never counted on. For me, it was better to err on the side of caution than pay the ultimate price for being either stubborn or pretending to be a macho man.


Monday, March 31, 2014

What Price Do You Put on a Damaged Brain?

When it comes to the debate on sports related concussions (especially in football) it is a subject I am not afraid to wage into because I feel very strongly about it emotionally. While I’ve talked about my own personal issues and experiences with concussions for more than 20 years, many people inside and outside of sports thought I was a little insane to speak out publicly on a subject that very few would bring up for discussion. The concussion issue has now become a very hot button topic not just in the United States but worldwide.  I thought this topic was appropriate to comment on at this time based on recent legal developments surrounding the August 2013 “proposed” settlement between the National Football League and over 4500 retired football players who had filed lawsuits against the League. Those lawsuits stemmed from the contention that the NFL knew about the dangers of on-field head injuries long before it did enough about them, and that those players affected have not been helped enough in their post-football lives.

Most families within the retired player community felt that any settlement with the National Football League would take many years to be reached or resolved. So, when a proposed settlement of $765 million dollars plus the cost of attorney fees was announced just prior to the beginning of the National Football League season, it took many, even journalists off guard. The amount agreed upon seemed generous enough on the surface (at the time) but looking at the smaller print gave people a reason to hesitate and take a pause over the “proposed” settlement. The $765 million dollars over a 20 year time frame did several things from my viewpoint. First, the positive with the agreement was, it would provide money immediately for the families of players who needed financial assistance to care for former players who have already been diagnosed with dementia, Alzheimer’s, ALS or Parkinson’s Disease as a result of concussions or a Traumatic Brain Injuries sustained playing in the National Football League. Second, a negative impact was with the timing of the settlement agreement. Some retired players felt that part of the reason for the NFL’s eagerness in agreeing to the settlement was to make the dark cloud hanging over the “image” of the NFL disappear or go away before the opening kickoff of the 2013 football season.  Third, the average playing career in the National Football League is less than 4 years. With a proposed $765 million dollar settlement, if accepted and agreed upon by the court, there would be 5 generations of former players eliminated from suing the National Football League for any kind of negligence involving concussions or head injuries and the cumulative effects sustained playing football on the professional level.

For clarification sake, my reason for lending my voice to the concussion conversation has always been to speak from a first person perspective on the subject but also to speak for those who no longer have a voice to be heard. I understood a long time ago of the impact of the concussions I gave and received as a player on the field. But I was also aware of the lingering ramifications of brain injuries off the field later in life. Knowing what I knew from firsthand experience, I intentionally opted to keep my distance from being a plaintiff in any lawsuits against the National Football League. My rationale was, I did not want my message regarding concussions to be misconstrued by anyone as being financially driven.

In January 2014, United States District Judge Anita Brody refused to accept the proposed $765,000,000 settlement offer from the National Football League and the attorneys representing the over 4,500 Player plaintiffs. She wrote, "I am primarily concerned that not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their (families) ... will be paid."  It seemed that Judge Brody doubts that the $765 million is sufficient to cover the players and that some of the parameters to qualify for portions of the settlement monies are too narrow or restrictive. Bottom line, she doubted the fairness of the agreement.

The refusal of Judge Brody accepting the settlement should send a message not only to the retired football player community but also to college and high school players, coaches and administrations of the potential liabilities of football. More importantly, while this issue is primarily a sports (NFL) related issue, it is one that every parent with a son who wants to play football on any level should be aware and concerned.
To me, when it comes to lawsuits and football, I don’t pretend to wonder what’s reasonable or just and what’s not. I just hope Judge Brody gets both parties to agree on what is fair especially for those who never knew the hazards they signed up for on the field. The burning question that is most important to me is this: What is the appropriate price to be placed on a damaged brain? Having played the game on the high school, college and professional levels I certainly know of the physical toll the games takes on the human body. I am very much aware that injured knees can be replaced, hips and shoulders can be replaced as a result of injuries sustained in playing the game of football. But we all only have one brain! And that one brain cannot be replaced. In spite of helmets that are now more technologically advanced and superior to helmets used in previous eras of football, the helmet still can only protect the skull, not the brain.

In my opinion, Judge Brody did the right thing in following her gut instincts that not enough money would be set aside for the players who may be diagnosed with some type of neurological abnormality in the future.
I consider myself connected with former players around the country. From Hall of Fame Players to those who only played a year on special teams, I get to meet and interact with many of my football brethren at events, via email, by text messages or by phone.  I think I’ve seen more than the average person when it comes to retired players. What I am about to say is purely my own opinion. I feel that we are standing on the precipice of the beginning stages of an epidemic of players from the 1960s, 1970s and possibly 1980s who will begin to be diagnosed with some type of neurological disorder that will necessitate family members and loved ones becoming caregivers. For those players who never knew of the consequences of sustaining head trauma playing football I would say on their behalf to Judge Brody that there is no price or dollar figure worth the cost of a healthy brain.