23 October 2008


HE ONCE TERMED HIMSELF ‘A SOLDIER,’ much to the consternation of critics who claimed that his words were disrespectful to the warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan. He did withstand two potentially life-threatening battles, however, yet he has been derided as a “baby,” a “whiner,” and a Helluva lot worse.

Those who follow football know that when the Cleveland Browns drafted Kellen Winslow, Jr., the consensus was that he was a lot like his father, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after ten years with the San Diego Chargers. Tough, tenacious and talented, “K-2,” as he has become known, is indeed the “real deal,” an astonishing mix of speed, doggedness and strength of purpose.

He’s also a bit of a hothead who flies off the handle on occasion and gets himself into trouble. This week, however, Kellen Winslow, Jr. raised an issue that extends far beyond what he originally intended. His “outburst,” as it has been described by some, cut to a core issue about medical care — and its’ inability to defeat what could well be the next plague: Supergerms.

Superbugs, or Supergerms range the gamut from the rare, but honest-to-God nightmare of flesh-eating bacteria, to the increasingly common threat of MRSA — an infection caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria — and often called "staph." According to The Mayo Clinic, MRSA is “a strain of staph that's resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it.”

It also states, “MRSA can be fatal,” and tragically, that has also become commonplace.

Winslow recently made headlines by missing a nationally televised game against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants because of what was eerily termed, “an undisclosed illness.” So when he missed what was arguably the most important game of the season, it raised eyebrows from coast-to-coast, and led to rampant — and often mean-spirited conjecture. To those of us who know him, Winslow is a player of unbelievable resolve, a man who fought back from a broken leg in his rookie season, only to suffer again from a self-inflicted injury to his knees while performing ill-advised stunts on a motorcycle the following Spring. The latter cost him dearly, both in terms of salary and what will surely be a shortened career.

Even his critics admit that no one plays through more pain than K-2 — no one. And I’m not speaking only of pain on the football field, either, rather the unbelievable pain he encountered after a staph infection appeared following his first surgery. By numerous accounts, he writhed in pain as the staph infection tried to eat his knee from the inside out. Winslow the Warrior faced the challenge with grit, and when he intially returned to the Browns, he was an emaciated shell of his former Herculean self.

Little did he know at the time, but he became the latest athlete whose life — and career was literally threatened by staph. From high school wrestlers to Major League Baseball, the problem has spiraled out of control with frightening speed over the past decade, with no signs of slowing up.

Despite denials from the NFL, the American Medical Association (AMA), and countless others, staph infections truly are deadly business. For all of the overblown fears about Avian Flu — to which we have allocated hundreds of millions of research dollars with the aim of finding a “pharmaceutical solution,” there is a willful ignorance about existing solutions to this deadly strain of superbugs.

While a scant few media outlets reported it, one of these essential weapons has been employed recently in the fight against staph: ozone. NFL teams like the Browns began using ozone-generating machines to clean their gear, where sweat and germs obviously need sanitizing. The larger problem, however, has not been adequately addressed — and that is in the locker room and showers where these germs mutate into their potentially deadly cousins like MRSA. For decades, chemicals have been the dominant weapons of choice in “fighting germs.” Whether antibiotics or often toxic cleaning agents, we must acknowledge that the chemical solution has failed to eradicate the supergerms, and that their usefulness may have largely run their course.

Pitifully, they still are being used in the vast majority of hospitals, clinics and locker rooms — and people are dying — in many cases for no logical reason whatsoever. Staph claimed the life former Rams receiver — and a longtime radio analyst Jack Snow in 2006. According to Associated Press, “the cause of Snow’s death was a staph infection” after Snow had a double hip replacement surgery in 2006. A staph infection followed, and Snow died shortly thereafter.

It is a threat pervasive throughout sports. As reported by Fox Sports, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Alex Rios contracted staph in 2006, cutting short an All Star season. Staph also stymied Phoenix Suns star Grant Hill following one of his four surgeries, and college football player Ricky Lannetti of Lycoming College died after contracting MRSA in 2003.

So for Kellen Winslow, Jr. — who has been victimized twice by the scourge of staph — this was no laughing matter. The team requested confidentiality even though he was the sixth Browns player to contract staph — all following surgery of some kind. And make no mistake, Winslow must have channelled the courage of a soldier just to survive the pain.

Likewise with his former teammate LeCharles Bentley, a Cleveland native and Pro-Bowl center, who contracted staph after an operation on his patellar tendon. He too suffered horribly — and was forced to endure multiple surgeries in an atempt to remove the infection, an infection that ended his career — and very nearly his life.

Next came Joe Jurevicius, who is, ironically, another member of the Browns who emanates from Cleveland. In the off-season, after what was termed “a simple surgery to clean out his knee,” Jurevicius became violently ill. It was learned that he also had a staph infection, yet he was optimistically slated to return to the team in mid-October. The truth is, this beloved hometown hero will be lucky if he ever returns to the game he loves.

Rounding out “the staph-infected six” are wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who recovered; linebacker Ben Taylor, and safety Brian Russell. While this supergerm felled six members of the same team, it is, by no means, confined to the Cleveland Browns or even the NFL.

Surgical operations, the last time I checked, don’t occur in locker rooms. While the area’s medical institutions are mum about the origin of the staph, one doesn’t have to possess the deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes to discern where these supergerms may have really come from.

Not only is this dangerous — for all of us — it is wholly unnecessary. Even though many teams have finally turned to Ozone to kill staph on equipment, they need to do more — and use ozone generators each evening after practice throughout locker rooms. I’ve seen this at work many times: men donning “space suits” who spray ozone in smoke and fire damaged homes, and to kill molds caused by flooding. It works, people, and dramatically so. Ozone should be used far more widely in operating rooms, where germ mutation rates are beyond the reach of man-made chemicals, in addition to airports, schools, etc.

But let’s be real, here — they are not.

Finally, there exists one other vital weapon to be utilized against staph: it is called a Hyperbaric Oxygen chamber. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy provides oxygenation, which fights staph in at least three important ways:

1. It helps to strengthen the bone cells (called osteoclasts) that reabsorb dead bone, allowing the osteoclasts to remove bone debris more effectively.
2. Hyperbaric oxygen enhances the function of the immune system's white blood cells, which depend on oxygen. Many claim that hyperbaric oxygen is especially effective when used with antibiotics as it supports the action of the antibiotics.
3. Hyperbaric oxygen helps the body to create new blood vessels, or capillaries.

WHY MORE PRO TEAMS DON’T USE THESE WEAPONS to fight staph is a mystery of untold proportions. Wealthy owners house million dollar investments — athletes — and then they don’t adequately protect them. Perhaps this relates to the stubborness of conventionally trained team doctors, who enjoy a stranglehold over pro sports, but does this make any sense, with what is at stake?

Whatever the reasons for their inaction, when six athletes become infected with a life threatening illness — on one team — one would surmise that said doctors would be smart enough to reach for something outside the medicine cabinet. Yet they continue to employ pharmaceutical based medicines and chemicals despite the risk, and they imperil millions of patients in the process. By refusing to acknowledge that the spectrum of bacteria is so evolved that it is virtually impossible for drugs to keep pace with mutations, they betray their dangerously narrow, learned prejudices.

Sooner or later, society will learn that while millions of MDs certainly may mean well, their wisdom is hollow when it comes to confronting the horror of supergerms.

Kellen Winslow and five other Cleveland Browns learned that painful truth first hand. . .and it’s only a question of time before millions of others will be faced with the same awful choices.

Armed with this information, however, we can demand drastic change from medicine. In the deadly quest to treat supergerms, that time should be now, before future leaders, doctors, and Kellen Winslows die needlessly.


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