By DON VAN NATTA Jr., MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and IAN AUSTEN; Karen Crouse and Larry Dorman contributed reporting.
Dec. 15 (New York Times) -- This article was reported by Don Van Natta Jr., Michael S. Schmidt and Ian Austen and written by Mr. Van Natta Jr.
A Canadian doctor who has treated many N.F.L. players as well as Olympic medalists like Donovan Bailey and the world's top golfer, Tiger Woods, is under criminal investigation in the United States. He is suspected of providing athletes with performance-enhancing drugs, according to several people who have been briefed on the investigation.
The F.B.I. investigation of Dr. Anthony Galea, a sports medicine specialist who has treated hundreds of professional athletes across many sports, follows his arrest on Oct. 15 in Toronto by the Canadian police. Human growth hormone and Actovegin, a drug extracted from calf's blood, were found in his medical bag at the United States-Canada border in late September.
Dr. Galea is also being investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for smuggling, advertising and selling unapproved drugs as well as criminal conspiracy. He is tentatively scheduled to appear in a Canadian courtroom on Friday.
Dr. Galea and his lawyer say his innovative treatments do not break any laws or violate antidoping rules in sport. "We're confident that an investigation of Dr. Galea will lead to his total vindication," said Brian H. Greenspan, Dr. Galea's criminal-defense lawyer. "Dr. Galea was never engaged in any wrongdoing or any impropriety. Not only does he have a reputation that is impeccable, he is a person at the very top of his profession."
Dr. Galea has developed a reputation among elite athletes for accelerating recovery after surgery or for helping them avoid surgery altogether by using a blood-spinning technique known as platelet-rich plasma therapy, as well as other pioneering procedures, on knees, elbows and Achilles' tendons.
Although he said he prescribed human growth hormone to some patients in his general practice and had used it himself for 10 years, Dr. Galea, 50, said in an interview that he had never treated professional athletes with H.G.H.
Dr. Galea said Mr. Woods was referred to him by the golfer's agents at Cleveland-based International Management Group, who were alarmed at the slow pace of Mr. Woods's rehabilitation after knee surgery in June 2008. The doctor said he flew to Orlando, Fla., at least four times to give Mr. Woods the platelet therapy at his home in Windemere, Fla., in February and March of this year. When asked for comment about Mr. Woods's involvement with Dr. Galea, Mark Steinberg, of I.M.G., responded in an e-mail message: "I would really ask that you guys don't write this? If Tiger is NOT implicated, and won't be, let's please give the kid a break."
Dr. Galea's legal problems began in late September when his assistant was stopped entering the United States from Canada. Her car was searched by border-crossing guards and authorities found Dr. Galea's medical bag, which contained four drugs, including human growth hormone, Dr. Galea said. "It was for my own use," he said.
The authorities also seized his laptop computer and a sonogram machine, he said. His assistant, he said, often drove him around and that was why his belongings were in her car. The assistant, whom Dr. Galea declined to identify, has stopped working at his clinic and, he said, is now cooperating with the authorities.
Federal investigators in the United States are basing their investigation, in part, on medical information found on Dr. Galea's computer relating to several professional athletes he treated, according to the people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a continuing investigation.
Dr. Galea said "it would be impossible" for the authorities to have found information linking any of his athletes to performance-enhancing drugs.
On Oct. 15, the Canadian police raided Dr. Galea's clinic, the ISM Health & Wellness Centre in Toronto. Sgt. Marc LaPorte, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said Dr. Galea was arrested and released the same day after questioning. Mr. Greenspan said court documents, which are not public under Canadian law, show that his client faces three charges, one under Canada's food and drugs act, one under its customs act and a conspiracy charge under the criminal code. The customs and the drug charges relate to the misrepresentation of goods and drugs.
As part of his practice, Dr. Galea said he prescribed human growth hormone to patients 40 and over to improve their stamina when working out and to combat fatigue, among other health benefits.
"The authorities here and elsewhere have it wrong," Mr. Greenspan said. "They don't understand the medical aspects."
Prescribing human growth hormone is legal in Canada but approved in the United States only for a few specific uses that do not include hastening recovery from surgery or injury. In the world of sports, under World Anti-Doping Association guidelines, H.G.H. is banned though not widely tested for because it requires a blood test. The N.F.L., the N.H.L., the N.B.A. and Major League Baseball do not test for H.G.H.
Ten years ago, when he turned 40, Dr. Galea said he began injecting himself with human growth hormone five days a week.
Using H.G.H., he said, may allow him a longer lifespan with his wife, who he said is 22 years younger. "If the body is healthy, then your mind and intellect are free to study, to feed your spirit," he said during one of several lengthy phone interviews over the past several days.
Dr. Galea said he used Actovegin to treat the injuries of some of his patients, including players on the Toronto Argonauts football team, for which he has been the team doctor since 2004.
Dr. Galea said he did not use Actovegin to treat Mr. Woods or other United States athletes.
Actovegin is a controversial drug that is not approved for sale in Canada and is being closely monitored, though not banned, by the World Anti-Doping Agency. It is essentially strained and purified calf's blood, and is produced in Austria by Nycomed, a Swiss-based company. Actovegin first came to the attention of antidoping authorities in the late 1990s when elite cyclists were found to be using it. Actovegin "was tested by antidoping laboratories and no growth hormone or prohibited hormones were found," said Frederic Donze, a spokesman for the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is based in Montreal. "WADA, however, closely monitors Actovegin since we are aware of its use in some sports, possibly in conjunction with other substances that may be prohibited."
In cycling, for example. some athletes apparently believe that it can accelerate the healing of injuries, especially tendon and muscle tears. Many leading antidoping experts, however, believe there is no benefit and all the athletes get is a placebo effect.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency has developed "intelligence" that athletes are using Actovegin to attempt to improve performance, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Usada asked the World Anti-Doping Agency to ban Actovegin this year but it declined.
Although he prescribes H.G.H. and Actovegin in some cases, Dr. Galea said he never combined those drugs with his platelet-rich plasma injections.
His practice has become a regular destination for injured professional athletes, including N.F.L. players who take red-eye flights on Monday nights for treatment on Tuesdays, their day off, because of the platelet-rich plasma methodology that he began using eight years ago. News of his arrest shocked many in the sports world, especially those who refer to him as "Miracle Man."
"We're all surprised by this -- we believe it's going to go away and it's a misunderstanding," said David Cynamon, co-owner of the Argonauts. "He might be one of the elite sports medicine doctors anywhere, and that's why the likes of Tiger locate him."
Dr. Galea said he had used Actovegin to treat several Argonauts players' injuries, but Mr. Cynamon said he was not aware of that.
The use of platelet therapy, which has become more prevalent in sports medicine in recent years, is believed by some doctors to dramatically speed up recovery times. Platelet-rich plasma is created by putting a small amount of the patient's blood in a centrifuge, which separates the red blood cells from the platelets that release proteins and other particles involved in the body's healing process. No more than a teaspoon of the substance is injected into the damaged area. In some cases, the high concentration of platelets -- from 3 to 10 times that of normal blood -- catalyzes the growth of new soft-tissue or bone cells.
The treatment catalyzes the body's instincts to repair muscle and other tissue, said Dr. Allan Mishra, an assistant professor of orthopedics at Stanford University and one of the primary researchers in the field. Dr. Mishra and other doctors say that the technique appears to help regenerate ligament and tendon fibers.
But other doctors say that more research is needed before the therapy can be embraced as scientifically proven.
Doug Richards, a professor at the University of Toronto and a physician for the N.B.A.'s Toronto Raptors, hosted a presentation on the platelet therapy by Dr. Galea at the university shortly after his arrest. "It's a technique that shows promise," Dr. Richards said, "but research is required to show its effectiveness."
Dr. Mark Lindsay, a chiropractor from White Lake, Ontario, who works with Dr. Galea, said his colleague is at the cutting edge of sports medicine, and has extended the careers of countless elite athletes.
"Ten years from now, they are going to say, wow, this guy was a pioneer," Dr. Lindsay said in a recent phone interview. "That's the unfortunate thing."
The Olympic swimmer Dara Torres said she sought out Dr. Galea to help diagnose the cause of continuing pain in her knee earlier this year. "He found a tear in my quad tendon that was undiagnosed," Torres said in an e-mail message. "Excluding draining my knee, he has never treated me, but I did see his chiropractor who did soft-tissue work on my leg. That was the extent of my visit with him."
Mr. Bailey, a retired Canadian sprinter, said Dr. Galea helped him in 1999, when he received treatment from him for a ruptured Achilles' tendon, but did not receive any kind of injections.
Dr. Lindsay said he led Mr. Woods's rehabilitation team after the golfer's June 2008 surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament. In addition to Dr. Lindsay, who is best known for overseeing Alex Rodriguez's rehabilitation from hip surgery last spring, the Woods team included Dr. Galea and a Vermont-based strength coach named Bill Knowles.
Dr. Lindsay said he worked with Mr. Woods at his home throughout his eight-month rehabilitation. The work included strength training, conditioning and exercises in a swimming pool, Dr. Lindsay said.
In February, discouraged by the lack of progress, Dr.Lindsay asked Dr. Galea to look at Mr. Woods, who was suffering from patellar tendinitis and had scarring in the muscle. "It's common after the A.C.L. to have tendinitis," Dr. Lindsay said. "And the P.R.P. helped."
Dr. Galea said he treated Mr. Woods in his home four or five times with a borrowed centrifuge from an Orlando doctor. Each time, he said he drew blood from Woods, spun it to increase the platelets' count and then injected a small amount directly into Mr. Woods's left knee.
Two days after the first treatment, Woods texted him, Dr. Galea said: "He said he couldn't believe how good he feels. He'd joke and say, 'I can jump up on the kitchen table,' and I said, 'Please don't.' "
Dr. Galea said that Mr. Woods stayed in touch, texting him after the British Open in July that his left knee had begun bothering him again. Dr. Galea said he flew to Orlando in early August and gave Mr. Woods P.R.P. therapy for a final time.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Snippets from a NY Times story that hit the wires this morning:
Posted by TR at 9:26 AM