By Ann Liguori
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Joe Namath’s return to Long Island on Wednesday was not about recalling the good ol’ days of leading the Jets to their Super Bowl III victory. Instead, he spoke at the Head Injury Awareness and Prevention Celebrity Sports Forum at the New York Institute of Technology’s Center for Sports Medicine to increase awareness of protecting school-aged athletes from concussions.

At the event, sponsored by the Head Injury Association, Namath was joined by other luminaries, including fellow former Jets Curtis Martin, Marty Lyons, John Nitti and Rich Caster; former heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney; and Hall of Fame jockey Ramon Dominguez, to name a few. They shared their stories of suffering concussions in their careers and how raising awareness of how to prevent and treat concussions is the best recourse.

Namath spoke about the treatment he’s been undergoing in hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers and the progress Dr. Barry Miskin, the medical director of the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center in Jupiter, Florida, has made in helping Namath and others in treating traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

Recalling that he endured five concussions while playing pro football, Namath told the audience that included coaches, athletic directors, teachers and brain injury survivors that “we used to call it ‘getting your bell rung.’”

Earlier in the week, I interviewed Namath about the hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy and why he thought he needed it.

“I was always questioning myself,” he revealed. “We all question ourselves. We’re forgetful about things. We can’t remember this. We get concerned with the aging process because we’ve seen so many people over the years with the early onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s. It’s so much in the news these days. We’re more educated about the folks who are unfortunate and have a deteriorating process, with personal association with guys who took their own lives, couldn’t live. Why did they do that? We’re continuing to research, and we are going to find out.

“Researchers have a better handle on it today than ever. Some of my symptoms certainly came from the curiosity of my behavior, simple things like forgetting things and knowing that I had been concussed and knowing I had TBI over the years, but we didn’t call it that. … So I knew I’d had some injuries, and I wanted to find out about it.”

So Namath dove in, literally. He connected with Miskin at the Jupiter Medical Center in Jupiter, Florida, where Joe has lived for over 30 years. Miskin did brain scans and various tests on Namath and suggested that Broadway Joe try hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

“Because I know I had a minimum of five concussions,” Namath explained, “I said to myself — and we’re going back to 2012 — I said it behooves me for my sake and my family’s sake to see if possible what my situation was at the time. And so I approached the doctors at the Jupiter Medical Center, and Dr. Miskin gave me some cognitive tests. And I took some brain scans, and over a period of time, after over 100 dives (the term used for going into a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber), we saw a dramatic change.

“So I’m convinced we can help. Now we’ve had friends, people we know who have suffered a TBI, whether it’s falling off a bicycle or a military veteran or an automobile crash victim — these injuries don’t discriminate. We know we can help at this stage. It’s a matter of convincing the powers to be that recognizing the treatment, that this is a positive.”

When I asked Namath how he feels after a session in the hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, he said the results are gradual.

“After the first dive, the second dive, the 100th dive, I wasn’t feeling an immediate change because, Ann, I’ve been blessed; I’ve been feeling good for a long time,” he said. “I’ve taken care of my mind and body — maybe not as much as I should have sometimes, but I have taken care. I don’t remember any one time (in the chamber) that I suddenly felt well. But I have a tendency to try to simplify things, get to the point and try to make things clear and simple. When I think about my life and when I think about how my body operates, I’ve often thought: ‘You know, I can fast. I can go without food, without fuel, but how long can I go without oxygen? How important is oxygen to the animal that we are, to every living thing?’ We need it so much. And to have it administered into our system with the process that we’re using through the hyperbaric chambers, the healing effect on cells that aren’t as healthy that we’d need them to be … .

“I’ve seen my brain scans over a period of time,” Namath continued. “I’ve seen the changes. I know it works. You have to trust the process, and you will ultimately feel the changes. People feel the change. They go through our process. They could not talk, and they’re now talking. Could not use the left arm, couldn’t lift it up, and now are using the limb. I’ve seen changes in other patients that have convinced all of us that this does help.”

When I asked Namath if the NFL is doing enough to help players who suffer from TBI, he said: “Ann, I think everyone could be doing a lot more. I know the powers to be in the NFL have changed some rules and all. I don’t think any of us are ever going to stop TBI from happening in automobile accidents, in sports, in the military. The brain is a fragile organ in our head, and it can be damaged. I wish everyone was doing more, let me put it that way. I wish the NFL, all of us were doing more to help TBI victims.”

Namath feels the NFL could be supporting his work at the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center.

“I can only hope,” he said. “We’ve reached out but haven’t had success with the powers that be at the NFL. I can only hope that everyone recognizes that there is a process that can help heal people with these brain injuries.”

Miskin, at the podium at Wednesday’s forum, said a scan of Namath’s brain that he did a week ago “shows significant improvement.”

“Our message is one of hope,” Miskin said. “I believe hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy can be a really good treatment for TBI.”

Please follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori

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