If you’ve been paying any attention to the sports page lately, you might have noticed that legendary Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar’s disappearance from public view in the wake of a few bizarre weeks on Twitter that culminated in a completely disassociative radio appearance on ESPN Cleveland WKNR in early December was not actually due to secret meetings with Mike Lombardi about a position with the new Browns front office. Last month, Kosar made national news by way of a press conference with his new doctor, Rick Sponaugle, whose “groundbreaking” work, according to Kosar, was “healing” him, and had him feeling “20 years younger.”
“It was a gift from God to find this and feel like this,” Kosar said on January 10, after 15 “treatments” with Sponaugle. “I see all the symptoms going away.”
If you think this all sounds highly questionable, Sarah Jane Tribble’s recent excellent work on Dr. Sponaugle in the Plain Dealer — including this Feb. 6 report and a follow-up published yesterday — will leave you with more questions and no good answers.
Both reports are loaded with information and you’ll want to read both of them in full but here are a few highlights:
Kosar decided to receive treatment from Sponaugle after having, ”[found Sponaugle after doing research on the Internet," after which Kosar "arrived at the clinic within days of [the] widely publicized [aforementioned appearance on WKNR].”
On Kosar’s 15 treatments:
[They] included administering an intravenous tube and dietary supplements, both Kosar and Sponaugle have confirmed. But neither will say what the supplements were nor what was fed through the IV tube. IVs are typically used to deliver fluid, nutrients and medication to the body.
Sponaugle calls the contents of his IV drip proprietary and said Kosar was awake throughout his treatment.
Dr. Robert Cantu, a Boston University neurosurgeon and brain-injury researcher, said using IV therapies and supplements to treat brain trauma “is not standard practice.”
Sponaugle, who is board certified in anesthesiology and addiction, but not neurology, specializes “in a controversial treatment known as ‘rapid detox,’” which “involves placing a patient under anesthesia for hours while they are given drugs to aid what is normally a painful withdrawal.”
According to William Denihan, chief executive of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction & and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County, “[rapid detox] really doesn’t set up a person for recovery” and, to his knowledge, “[no] accredited center in Northeast Ohio [performs] rapid detox treatment.”
According to Chris Adelman, medical director of Rosary Hall, “Northeast Ohio’s only hospital-based treatment facility for drug addiction,” rapid detox is “very dangerous” and “not any kind of procedure that is standard.”
Susan Foster, director of policy research and analysis at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University says that rapid detox is not an “evidence-based treatment.”
“To the contrary,” Foster said, “There is some evidence to support that it is expensive and dangerous.”
As for other evidence, Sponaugle told Tribble that “he has performed many studies but that he hasn’t had them published because, ‘I do not give all my data away.’”
“Here’s the deal,” he said. “I don’t have time to sit around and gather all the data. . . . I’m very busy, and that’s OK.”
And it’s OK in part because, according to a phone call between Sponaugle and another doctor overheard by Tribble, “I fix the brain so fast anymore … they just fall off the drug because they no longer need the drug to quit this or do that.”
“You know when Bernie reversed, truthfully? Four days. All his symptoms were gone,” Sponaugle said.
Tribble cites a 2003 Media General News Service story about a clinic called “Florida Detox” that Sponaugle ran with a seven person staff, “made up of evangelical Christians who consider Florida Detox to be their spiritual mission.”
And when Tribble asked him if he was paid by Kosar, Sponaugle said, “[Kosar] paid very handsomely, and he should. He’s got more money than me, OK, whatever.”
For the rest, read both of Tribble’s reports (here and here) which include more quotes from doctors, including Sponaugle himself, as well as spilled wine glasses, and a whole lot of pacing and fidgeting. See if you can come to any conclusion but that Sponaugle put Bernie on a morphine drip for 15 days and then told him to call a press conference.
Kudos to the Plain Dealer for dedicating the resources to dig deeper into a story about which the national media displayed a disturbing lack of skepticism.
“I want you to know enough to know that I’m not a quack,” is what Sponaugle said to Tribble at the end of a 5-hour dinner interview.