Beyond a single story: BENNET OMALU

“Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu (born September 1968) is a Nigerian-American physician, forensic pathologist, and a neuropathologist who was the first to discover and publish findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players while working at the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office in Pittsburgh.”

Bennet Omalu was born in Nnokwa, Nigeria in 1968 during the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War.  He was extremely driven and graduated federal government college at the age of 12.  He pursued a rigorous education and started to pursue an M.D. from the University of Nigeria at 15 years old which he achieved in 1990.  He then left for the United States where he attended the University of Washington in 1994 and continued his education even further.  He eventually achieved an MPH in Epidemiology from the University of Pittsburgh in 2004 and graduated Carnegie Mellon University in 2008 with an MBA. Throughout his career, Omalu received multiple certificates in Anatomic, Clinical, Forensic, and Neuropathology.  He is currently the president and medical director of Bennet Omalu Pathology and a clinical professor and associate physician diplomat at UC Davis Medical Center. But things weren’t always so successful for him. In fact, when Dr. Omalu made what some would say the biggest discovery of his career, he almost lost everything. It was the discovery of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

In 2002, Mike Webster, an NFL player, died.  It was Dr. Bennet Omalu who examined Webster’s brain and discovered the signs of what he later coined as CTE. CTE is a “progressive degenerative disease brought on by the exposure to repetitive blunt force trauma to the head”, which occurs often in football. The disease leads to a gradual deterioration and mass loss of the brain.
This causes loss of memory, impulsive and erratic behavior, and dementia, all which are symptoms Webster showed before his death. It was these changes in behavior that intrigued Dr. Omalu.

After his discovery, Dr. Omalu published his finding in 2006 and titled his work Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in National Football League PlayersThe NFL was extremely displeased with this because it threatened the sport’s popularity.  The NFL’S Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee demanded a retraction, but Omalu refused because he believed the information to be too important.  Then, Terry Long, another NFL player, committed suicide at the age 45.  Before his death, he also showed several behavioral symptoms of CTE. Omalu examined his brain and concluded his erratic behavior leading to his death was due to the disease.  He published another journal titled CHRONIC TRAUMATIC ENCEPHALOPATHY IN A NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE PLAYER: PART 2

.  The publishing of his work led to multiple lawsuits from the NFL and the loss of his job. The MTBI Committee continued to call his work flawed and dismissable.  Then in 2009, after more intense research by other neuropathologists who had become interested in Omalu’s work, the NFL publicly acknowledged the clear links between the sport of football and CTE.

Thanks to Dr. Bennet Omalu’s efforts, more research is committed to CTE in hopes of finding possible treatments.  Recently, PTSD was found to be part of the CTE family which has deeply increased understanding of the mental disorder.  Dr. Omalu continues his practice and went on to publish even more research and wrote books about his findings.  Hollywood even noticed his work and wrote a movie about his discovery of CTE and drama with the NFL. The movie is titled Concussion.

victor ogungbenro

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