Neurosurgeon Barth Green: Football player's spinal treatment available to all Print
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Thursday, 27 September 2007 08:29
NFL Headline News

 MIAMI (AP) -If Dr. Barth Green had his way, there would be no space program. His idea of a moon-shot is curing paralysis, and while he's at it, poverty.
``I'd disband NASA for 10 years and take half its budget to avert natural disasters. We could do it, we've got the technology. I'd take the other half to deal with disease and suffering,'' the neurosurgeon said. ``The time has come to do something bold instead of buying wheelchairs.''
Those sorts of audacious statements make the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis' president stand out. But some doctors believe there is not enough evidence yet to prove the experimental cooling therapy Green advocates works on people with spinal cord injuries.
Still, Green has spent his career redefining what is possible for people who suffer catastrophic injuries in less spectacular ways than Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett.
He suffered a life-threatening spinal cord injury Sept. 9 in the season opener against Denver. Everett, who underwent moderate hypothermia in the ambulance, had immediate access to doctors familiar with the experimental cooling therapy.
``So do you!'' Green insisted, barely pausing for breath or a question in a rapid-fire phone interview. Paramedics anywhere can be trained to administer the moderate hypothermia therapy, as emergency responders in Miami will be, said the chairman of the neurological surgery department at the University of Miami school of medicine.
Green described the therapy as analogous to an ice pack for the spine, helping prevent swelling and further damage.
Doctors initially said Everett might not walk again, but he began moving his arms and legs days after the injury. Now continuing his recovery in Houston, he has been able to lift his right arm and sit up in bed for four hours, his doctors said.
Everett's case is no miracle, Green said - just proof the right treatment will help people who suffer catastrophic injuries live normal lives again.
``It's the first high-profile evidence of it. Let's begin to offer this type of treatment to everybody,'' Green said.
Other neurosurgeons cautioned that Everett's case alone cannot be considered proof that the treatment works, and more evidence is needed before the therapy can be widely applied.
``There's absolutely no way to determine the role that hypothermia played in one case,'' said Dr. Joe Maroon, a professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Maroon said he used a different variation of spinal cooling therapy on patients in the 1970s, but abandoned the technique because it was difficult to get patients treatment fast enough and wounds were open for too long. He said he would consider using hypothermia treatment again, but only after seeing more evidence of its success.
Green, 62, co-founded the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis in 1985 with three families whose loved ones had suffered spinal cord injuries, including Marc Buoniconti, son of pro football Hall of Fame linebacker Nick Buoniconti.
Green's attitude stood out among the neurosurgeons the Buonicontis consulted after Marc suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury while making a tackle for The Citadel in 1985.
``It was a real big difference under Dr. Green's care,'' Marc Buoniconti said. ``He made it sound, through his actions and other people under his care, that living with a spinal cord injury, while an inconvenience, you can still live a full and productive life.''
Among Green's other surgical patients is Bills owner Ralph Wilson. In 1997, Green operated to relieve a narrowing around the spine that was pinching off the nerves to Wilson's feet.
``What Dr. Green is, he's more of a caretaker,'' Wilson said Wednesday. ``He does it because he wants to help people who can't help themselves.''
Wilson also has contributed to Green's spinal cord injury research and Project Medishare, a Haitian charity Green co-founded and describes as an ``invasion'' of housing, food, electricity and medical supplies.
Green first began working with paraplegics while attending medical school at Indiana University. Paralyzed veterans volunteered in the spinal cord injury research laboratory where he worked.
``I said to myself, if there's a group of these people that are so courageous and so selfless, somebody ought to carry their damn banner and do something about,'' Green said. ``That's 1965. I was 20 years old. I said I was going to commit my career to curing paralysis.''
Associated Press writer Sarah Larimer contributed to this report.
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