- Mike Fish
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ATLANTA -- Former NFL running back Jamal Lewis says he is a longtime patient of Dr. Anthony Galea, the Canadian doctor in the crosshairs of separate U.S. and Canadian criminal investigations for, among other things, alleged smuggling and drug-related offenses -- but denies that Galea ever injected him with HGH or any other illegal or banned substances.
In an interview, Lewis said he worked with Galea from early in his career with the Baltimore Ravens and as recently as last season with the Cleveland Browns. The bruising former all-pro running back, who absorbed his share of injuries -- including what appears to be a career-ending series of concussions -- also acknowledged having through the years encouraged other NFL players to seek out Galea because of the sports medicine specialist's success in helping him overcome injury.
Galea is not licensed to practice medicine in the United States, even though he has gained notoriety for having treated well-known athletes such as Alex Rodriguez and Tiger Woods. According to documents previously obtained by ESPN.com, Galea's former executive assistant identified 23 athletes she said the doctor treated last summer in the U.S. The majority are believed to be pro football players, though the only player to be previously identified in media reports is Washington Redskins receiver Santana Moss.
Lewis, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2003, is adamant that he was never injected with HGH or any illegal or banned substances. He and other athletes treated by Galea don't face legal issues as a result of the treatments, as federal authorities have been careful to describe them as witnesses and not subjects in their on-going investigation. Lewis and his attorney, Jerry Froelich, declined to say whether he has spoken with federal investigators or NFL officials.
"It is about being a superb athlete that is very in tune with your body, knowing the right people to go to and find," Lewis said. "He is one out of how many other doctors that I have seen. I am just more in tune with my body. No steroids, no HGH, no off-brand chemicals in my body, none of that. I am just pure hard work. I am going to out-work you. That is it. At same time, I want to be able to stay fresh. I want to make sure my muscles, my joints and everything is in tune ready to go."
Of the charges facing Galea: "I just think it was a bad deal, bad rap they were trying to give him. He's a great guy. Good person. Humble person. Just would never do anything to hurt a person, period."
Mary Anne Catalano, Galea's former assistant, described Galea as having injected a cocktail mixture containing human growth hormone, a substance banned by sports leagues, into the injured knees of "at least seven athletes." Catalano told authorities she accompanied the doctor on his whirlwind tour treating athletes last summer.
Lewis played in Cleveland the past three seasons.
Catalano told authorities 11 pro athletes were treated by Galea in three separate trips to Cleveland between last Aug. 27 and Sept. 11. Only two were linked to HGH therapy, while most of the others were said to have received a recovery drip containing various vitamins and homeopathic drugs.
In talking about Galea, Lewis portrays an NFL culture in which an increasing number of players shop for outside specialists because of distrust for team-paid physicians, believing their overwhelming primary interest is to ownership. He says the perception is the doctors' first order of business is to patch players up, get them on the field as quickly as possible or move them out.
Lewis cites his contention that his own bout with concussions -- he said he still experiences post-concussion syndrome -- was never properly diagnosed.
"Basically with [Galea], he just gave me second opinions on anything that was going on with my body," Lewis says. "I never really trusted team doctors or the team trainers, because they don't have my best interest at hand. So therefore I had my own doctor. I had my own people that I dealt with in order to give me a second opinion so I can trust and have my best interest at hand.
"Knees, ankles, joints. Whatever kind of joint pain, muscle, whatever it is you can depend on [Galea] to give you an honest opinion that you might not get at the [team] facility after you just got checked out.
"I got a concussion. I played 10 games with it [last season]. At the same time, [Galea] was going through his legal thing at the time so I really couldn't see him. But if I had been able to see him I would have known earlier that I had a concussion and I wouldn't have been playing 10 games."
Lewis said he often recommended Galea, who he referred to as "Dr. G," to players around the league, though he refused to identify them.
"Anybody that had chronic problems, chronic pains or whatever, I let them know," he says. "In Baltimore or around the league, I told them, 'This is the guy. Just holler, go up and see him.'
"He has a nice facility up there in Canada. Basically you just go up there and have a retreat. Hyperbaric chambers, world-class state-of-the-art fitness center and everything. A guy like myself, high-caliber player, very durable, and very conscientious about my body and what I do to my body -- those are the kind of people you need to see as a player."
Lewis acknowledges receiving platelet-rich plasma therapy [PRP] from Galea, a procedure the doctor has himself admitted using to treat the left knee of Woods, the golf star. During the treatment, blood is typically taken from the patient, then placed in a centrifuge before being injected into the injured area.
"I have been at Johns Hopkins and got the same treatment," says Lewis, referring to the widely-respected research hospital in Baltimore. "When he was dealing with players or whatever, he'd say 'Go to Johns Hopkins because they can do the same thing that I am doing.' It's very effective.
"If a lot of teams knew about it, a lot more guys would stay healthy."
A spokesperson for Johns Hopkins, citing confidentiality issues, wouldn't confirm whether Lewis had been a patient, but said the facility has never had a relationship or affiliation with Dr. Galea. The spokesperson also said PRP therapy is not practiced at the facility.
Lewis, 31 later this month, stood in the blistering summer sun recently watching the local youth football team he supports, the Atlanta Vikings, get ready to scrimmage a Dallas-based squad backed by ex-NFL star Deion Sanders. His head ached, and he said he wasn't feeling great. He talked about lining up the best helmets he can find for the young players, so they don't experience what he does most days.
Late last November, in the fourth-quarter of a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Lewis left the field for probably the final time after a 1-yard carry. An MRI test later showed "brain abnormalities." He was placed on injured reserve because of post-concussion symptoms. In February, the Browns released him.
Lewis says he had multiple concussions leading up to the final blow.
"I played 10 games with them," he says, referring to last season. "It came to the point where I found out I actually had post-concussion syndrome. That is when they put me on IR at the end of the season.
"Before that I had a few [concussions]. They weren't all last year. But the last two or three years just certain hits or whatever I have taken, and that is what it has caused."
Lewis is understandably concerned about the recurring headaches and slight memory loss ("I forget things somewhat," he explains.) He talks about the mundane exercises he's gone through to rebuild his memory, piecing together puzzles and recalling images from just viewed pictures.
He hasn't officially retired, but Lewis sounds like an ex-player, pleased with a stellar career highlighted by a Super Bowl ring and more than 10,000 grueling ground yards. He and a business partner last month purchased a financially struggling indoor water park resort, including a 337-room hotel, in Columbus, Ohio, for $6 million. He has a financial interest in an entertainment complex in Tennessee and also owns the Atlanta-based trucking company, All American Xpress.
When the New Orleans Saints called in February to talk about an offer for this season, Lewis met with team officials but wasn't well enough to work out for the defending Super Bowl champions. Even now he doesn't work out like he used to. After he trains, Lewis says he's tired the following two days.
"That is one of the reasons why I say I can't really go back and play," Lewis says.
Asked about his symptoms, he says: "Just dizziness. Over-exertion, can't really work out that much. Just stuff like that. It is just a whole thing about how you feel. I can work out one day and then be in bed for the next two days. The headaches and the migraines, vision blurriness, dizziness, stuff like that. Those are the symptoms, but the more concussions you get the longer it takes to actually recover from them. And I have had probably five or six of them."
Lewis says he's honed up as best he can on brain injuries -- much like he did when he searched out and found the sports specialist, Galea - and expresses interest in speaking with experts who studied the brain of the late Chris Henry, the NFL player who was killed in a traffic accident last December. A subsequent study at West Virginia University showed that prior to his death Henry had suffered degenerative brain damage caused by multiple hits.
In recent years, researchers have discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of more than 50 deceased former athletes, including several former NFL players.
"It is just the not knowing, because they are just starting to study up on this stuff," says Lewis, reflecting on his concussions and likely retirement scenario. "You look at Chris Henry and what happened with him. They say it wasn't actually just that blow [from the accident] that killed him, but it was over time multiple hits or whatever. And you don't know until you are dead. They can't find out. So do I really want to carry on with that and put myself in that kind of jeopardy? That is the question I have to ask myself.
"Hey, I played 10 years. I had a good career. I played longer than most running backs would actually play, so I'm kind of happy with my career and what I have done."
Some of that longevity and good health he credits to Galea.
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Former NFL running back Jamal Lewis said he is a longtime patient of Dr. Anthony Galea, but denied that Galea ever injected him with HGH or any other illegal or banned substances.