Black Music Impressario Don Cornelius, His Brain Surgery And Suspected Suicide


Posted on 3rd February 2012 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Don Cornelius was a successful African-Amercian entrepreneur who made his fortune by bringing undiluted black music to mainstream America in a hit show, “Soul Train.” The era was the 1970s, and Cornelius was the black Dick Clark of soul music and R&B.

It’s a shame that his story didn’t have a happy ending. And perhaps  it didn’t have a happy ending because of the brain surgery he once underwent.     

Cornelius, 75, was found dead in his California home Wednesday, an apparent suicide. He died of what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Cornelius had fallen into some difficult times, a downward spiral. His career faltered when he couldn’t contain his disdain for rap music and hip-hop.

And according to several press reports, he underwent brain surgery that had a dramatic, and apparently negative, impact on him. It wouldn’t be too big of a stretch to consider it a factor in his ultimate decision to take his own life.

Cornelius had his brain surgery in the 1980s, “and was quoted in newspapers at the time as saying he didn’t feel quite the same after,” according to The Los Angeles Times.

The Star-Ledger of Newark’s account of Cornelius’s experience also portrayed that brain surgery as a life-changer for the former broadcaster.   

“Cornelius suffered severe personal setbacks, too,” Star-Ledger music critic Tris McCall wrote. “In 1982, he underwent brain surgery to correct a life threatening congenital defect. He was back on ‘Soul Train’ six months later, but never really recovered.”

Cornelius and his first wife, his high school honey, divorced. His second marriage was no picnic: He was charged with domestic violence in 2008, eventually pleading no contest. He got 36 months probation.

“He had alluded to health problems in divorce papers,” The Times wrote.

I’d bet that at least some of those health problems were mental issues arising after his brain surgery. It’s a shame that he apparently decided to end his torment with a bullet. 


Princeton Freshman Football Star Dibilio Recovering From Stroke

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Posted on 1st February 2012 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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So far, the prognosis is looking good for Princeton freshman running back Chuck Dibilio, who suffered a stroke Jan. 19. But there is still no answer yet why this athlete, at the peak of his facilities, had a stroke.   

Dibilio, a 19-year-old from Nazareth, Pa., underwent surgery to have a blood clot removed from the main artery of his brain at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, according to the Associated Press. He had to be transported by helicopter to that medical facility.

Keith Groller, a columnist for the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., interviewed Dibilio 10 days after he had his stroke, and the star player seemed to be making good progress.,0,2305917.column

Dibilio, who was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, was back at home and undergoing therapy three times a week. He told Groller that after the stroke, he couldn’t  speak or move his right arm and leg. Now, he says he is OK physically. 

But in a disturbing aside that rings alarms, he added, “I just need to work on my speech and some mental things.”

Dibilio is still waiting for the results of tests that are trying to pin down what caused his stroke, according to Groller. But apparently, doctors think there is some kind of  link between the stroke and a spleen infection that Dibilio had last year, something that is causing “a clotting disorder.”

The young athlete’s mother said that Dibilio’s therapy is meant to improve his cognitive and language skills, as well as his reading comprehension. One would imagine he would need all those abilities to succeed at Princeton.

There is no timeline yet for when, or if, Dibilio will return to either school or football. He said that he is optimistic. I wish him well.       


Illinois Man Thinks It’s A Joke When He Learns He Shot A Nail Into His Brain


Posted on 22nd January 2012 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, especially when it comes to the brain. Take the case of Dante Autullo.

Autullo was using a nail gun to put together a shed in his hometown of Orland Park, Ill., Tuesday. According to the Associated Press, he had the nail gun above his head and fired it. He thought he felt a nail fly past his ear, and in fact his common-law-wife, Gail Glaenzer, cleaned a cut on his head afterward.

But the next day Autullo, 32, felt nauseous, and went to the hospital. Imagine his surprise when doctors showed him an X-ray of his skull, which showed a 3 1/4 nail in the middle of his brain.

AP reported that at first Autullo thought the doctors were trying to pull one over on him.

“When they brought in the picture, I said to the doctor, ‘Is this a joke? Did you get that out of the doctors’ joke file?” Autullo said, according to AP.

But it was no joke. The nail was there.

Autello remained remarkably cool even after he learned that he had a nail in his head. As an ambulance took him to a second hospital for surgery, he posted his mind-blowing X-ray on Facebook, AP reported.

Autello was apparently lucky in terms of where the nail ended up in his brain, barely missing the area that controls motor function, according to AP.

Surgeons removed the nail and Autello was doing well. As one neurosurgeon explained, being shot in the head with a nail is a lot different than being shot in the head with a bullet. The nail is thin, so does minimal damage, and doesn’t explode into pieces like a bullet.

AP’s report said that surgeons removed the nail by putting a hole in Autello’s skull near each end of the nail, and then fished out the nail. Part of the skull came out, too, and that was replaced with titanium mesh, the wire service said.

I’d suggest that Autello lay off the do-it-yourself home projects for awhile.   


New York Mets Great Gary Carter Has New Brain Tumors


Posted on 19th January 2012 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

Tests have found that former New York Mets catcher Gary Carter has developed new brain tumors, the New York Daily News reported Thursday.

Carter, who is a Hall of Famer, has been battling brain cancer. Physicians at Duke University did an MRI on him recently and found “several new spots/tumors on his brain,” Carter’s daughter Kimmy Bloomers wrote on a website Thursday, according to the News.

“Friday, my dad got two MRIs in North Palm Beach, Florida … one for his brain and one for shoulder/arm … I wish I could report the results were good …  I write these words with tears because I am so sad for my dad,” Bloomers wrote.

Last May Carter was diagnosed with four small inoperable brain tumors, and he underwent chemotherapy and radiation at Duke, according to the News. But recently his condition has deteriorated, and on Christmas he fell and damaged his rotator cuff. 

Things are so bad that Carter missed his annual charity golf tournament this week, the News reported, adding that doctors are deciding whether to continue giving him treatment. 

In an odd, or sad, twist of fate, the News pointed out that Carter has the same kind of brain tumors that killed former baseball greats such as Bobby Murcer and Tug McGraw.



Therapists Try To Find Ways To Help Married Couples Cope With TBI


Posted on 12th January 2012 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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I’m been working on a career-capping passion project: Conducting video interviews of those who have suffered traumatic brain injury, as well as their families.

One of the sad refrains I hear again and again, and have heard throughout my many years working as a lawyer,  is that they — TBI victims and their loved ones — want things to be the way they were before the car accident or fall or surgery or bomb blast or whatever that caused their injury.

In some cases, that happens. In most, it does not. 

A few days ago it was the first anniversary of the horrendous supermarket massacre in Tucson,  where Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot through the head. While Giffords has made amazing progress, it’s doubtful she will ever be the same person she once was. Yet her husband, ex-astronaut Mark Kelly, remains at her side.   

 What is their marriage like now?

The New York Times Tuesday did a fascinating story on the impact, and strain, that life-changing TBI puts on what was once marital bliss. The headline was “When Injuries To The Brain Tear At Hearts: Marriage Counseling Is Evolving To Help Couples Survive Personality Changes And Physical Challenges.”

The Times story said, “Contrary to conventional wisdom, many relationships do survive  after a spouse suffers a brain injury.”  In fact, the paper claimed that research indicates that the divorce rate was 17 percent for couples where one spouse had TBI, a statistic that’s below the national average.

But researcher and psychologist Jeffrey Kreutzer of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond put a  damper on that good news.  He told The Times that the quality of the relationships two people once had can be “seriously diminished.” Wives and husbands can feel like they are living with a stranger because of the profound impact of brain injury. 

Kreutzer is part of a group of therapists at Virginia Commonwealth who are trying to tailor marriage counseling to couples impacted by TBI.

The story offers two cases studies: One of a couple where the wife is struggling to cope with her husband’s personality changes and depression, and a second couple that seems to be adapting fairly well to the husband’s TBI.     

It circles back to what I said at the beginning of this blog, that most people with TBI will never be the same as they were before their injuries, and that the emotional tenor of their relationships will likely not stay the same.

Kreutzer’s role “means teaching uninjured spouses to forge a relationship with a profoundly changed person — and helping injured spouses to accept that they are changed people.”

The idea is to keep people looking to the future, not the past.

I wish Kreutzner and his colleagues success in their work, helping troubled couples impacted by TBI.

Jessica Joy Rees, Child Brain Tumor Blogger, Never Gave Up


Posted on 7th January 2012 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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That was the goodbye that Jessica Joy Rees, 12, of Orange County,  Calif., always ended her blogs with. It is an acronym that stands for “never ever give up.” Jessica’s spirit never did give up, even after being diagnosed with several inoperable brain tumors. It’s no wonder that her middle name was “Joy.”

But on Thursday, her body gave up. Jessica passed away after a 10-month-long fight against brain cancer, according to the Associated Press.

Jessica was a brave little girl. When she was diagosed with a brain tumor in March, she didn’t sit silently. Jessica launched a blog about her struggle with cancer. In September, doctors discovered that she had a second brain tumor.

Jessica not only wrote about her chemo and radiation treatments, she pleaded for readers to donate to pediatric cancer research. And that wasn’t all. Jessica and her parents created The NEGU Foundation, a nonprofit that raises funds for research and puts a spotlight on pediatric cancer, according to AP.

The NEGU Foundation would sell and distribute “JoyJars” to kids with cancer. They contained toys and candy, and more than 3,000 were sold and handed out in 27 states last year.

Jessica, who lived in Rancho Santa Margarita, truly became the poster child for pediatric cancer when she attended “American Idol.” She cheered on one contestant from the OC, Casey Abrams, and introduced another, Scott McCreery, who won the competition, according to AP.

Jessica’s father is a pastor, and we hope his faith takes him through this difficult time. His daughter was an angel even before she passed away.      

Arizona Man Comes Out of Coma, Before Being Groomed To Be An Organ Donor


Posted on 23rd December 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Here’s a cheerful Christmas time story about an Arizona youth, in a coma and thought to be brain dead, who woke up shortly before his organs were going to be harvested for donors.

The wonderful story of Sam Schmid, a student at the University of Arizona, to us illustrates the importance of not simply writing off patients in comas, the way some doctors do. And it is an example of  how frequent visits from family and friends seemingly stimulate a person in a coma, and help him or her come out of it.;_ylt=Ak.WPAdt7e1bReYcijw9iJ2s0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTNqN3IwdHBxBGNjb2RlA2N0LmMEcGtnAzVjNGY3OTYwLWI4NTYtM2FkNC1hYTQzLTU1NzMwOTg4NmU0MgRwb3MDMQRzZWMDbW9zdF9wb3B1bGFyBHZlcgM0MjcyMjM0MC0yY2Q4LTExZTEtYmZlYi0yMjhkZGUzZDBlMGU-;_ylg=X3oDMTJlaTQzcG12BGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdANob21lBHB0A3NlY3Rpb25zBHRlc3QDTm9uZXdzcmVhZGVyb25uZXdzaG9tZQ–;_ylv=3

According to the Associated Press, 21-year-old Schmid sustained such severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) in an Oct. 19 multi-car accident that he had to be transported to the Barrow Neurological Institute at st. Joseph’s Medical Center in Phoenix. He underwent surgery on an aneurysm.

But Schmid’s prognosis wasn’t considered very good, according to AP. Things were so bad that officials at the hospital  hinted to his family about his organs being donated. Maybe it was hearing about the possibility of his lifeline pulled and his organs removed, but the youth began responding.

Schmid is now walking, using a walker, and doctors are expecting him to recover from his TBI.  His mother, Susan Regan, thinks it’s a miracle, according to AP. And so does his neurosurgeon, Dr. Robert Spetzler, who just happened to train the doctor who performed surgery on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords when she was shot through the head in Tucson, AP reported.

Spetzler held off on pulling life support on Schmid because MRIs didn’t show any that any parts of his brain had any blood clots or if any part of his brain had become dark, a sign that brain tissue had died. Then suddenly, Schmid began to become responsive, AP reported.

Schmid may have been in a medically induced coma, but he wasn’t alone when he was comatose. He was always surrounded by family and friends, who offered him support. And we’d guess that even though he was out of it, he could still “hear” those who wanted him to recover.




Texas Model Recovering, But Could Lose Eye, After Walking Into Plane Propeller


Posted on 13th December 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Pretty Lauren Scruggs had a horrific accident last week, walking into a moving airplane propeller, but she is showing some signs of improvement.

The 23-year-old model and magazine editor on Dec. 3 had just gotten off a plane at an airport in McKinney, Texas, and — apparenty trying to move toward a friend in the dark — she walked in front of the still-spinning propeller.  She suffered severe injuries to her head, shoulder and arm. Doctors performed several surgeries on her, and had to amputate her left hand.  

But this week “The Today” show on NBC and its website,, did an update on Plano, Texas,  resident Scruggs, who edits the online fashion magazine LOLO and works as a model. Although she suffered lacerations to her face and a fractured skull, Scruggs facial nerves appear to be unaffected.

Her family has set up a website,, which reported that Scruggs has been able to smile and move her eyebrows. She has even been able to walk down a hall, and has had enough of an appetite to eat a bit. And she is able to count, which is a good sign as far as her cognitive abilities go.

Scruggs remains in pain, but it has become more manageable, according to the website.

But despite her progress, Scruggs is not out of the woods. She still may lose her left eye, because of the damage to her face from the accident. And her rehabilitation will no doubt be a long one, even her father concedes.

Scruggs cannot remember the accident. But one person who posted a comment on said that any pilot should know well enough not to let passengers disembark until a plane’s propellers have stopped moving. We don’t know if that true or not, but it ought to be a rule.

Wisconsin Study Finds Violent Video Games Cause Brain Changes

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Posted on 4th December 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Here’s another study that can add fuel to the debate on whether violent video games make real violence less horrific  to those who play them.

The latest research, which was unveiled last week at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, is being done at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The study found that “regularly playing a violent video game for a week lead to brain changes seen in MRI scans that researchers say may desensitize young men to violence,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday.

The issue is whether playing violent video games changes, and has a negative impact, on the minds of those who play them.

The study used 22 men aged 18 to 29 who did not play video games. They were split into two groups, with one group assigned to play a violent video game 10 hours a day over a week and a control group that didn’t play any games, according to the Journal Sentinel.

When the week was finished, both groups had MRI scans while they were given word, some of which related to violence, the Journal Sentinel reported.

The test group that played the violent video games “showed much less activation in areas of the brain involved in controlling emotion and aggressive behavior,” the newspaper wrote. The men that were in the control group didn’t’ exhibit any changes in their brains.

There is a bit of good news here. When the group that played the games stopped them for a week, their brains returned to the baseline level of before the test started.

MRI’s gauge changes in blood flow, and the less blood that goes to an area of the brain means less engagement of those brain cells. So some would make the argument that “that lack of brain activation to violent words suggests a desensitization to violence,” one of the study’s co-authors told the Journal Sentinel.

Obviously, this is just one study on a very controversial topic, and is not conclusive of anything. But it is food for thought.

By the way, the researchers wouldn’t say which video game they used for the study.           

Ex-Sen. George McGovern Hospitalized After Hitting Head In Fall


Posted on 3rd December 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern remained in stable condition Saturday after falling and sustaining a head injury on the way to a TV telecast yesterday, according to numerous press reports.

McGovern was hospitalized and resting Saturday at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The 89-year-old ex-senator was airlifted to the hospital Friday night after he fell down and struck his head outside Dakota Wesleyan University’s McGovern Library, according to The Daily Republic. McGovern was going there to appear on a live broadcast of “The Contenders,” a C-SPAN series about candidates who unsuccessfully ran for President but still had a dramatic impact on politics and history. 

McGovern was the Democratics candidate for President in 1972, losing to Richard Nixon.

According to The Daily Republic, Dr. Michael Elliott, chief medical officer at Avera McKennan Hospital, said, “Sen. McGovern is alert and resting comfortably but, as with any head injury, it is important that we observe the situation closely.” 

In a press release, Avera McKennan said that McGovern’s family extended its gratitude and appreciation for the many prayers and well wishes it has received.

But the family also requested privacy so it can focus on McGovern’s recovery.

McGovern is a native and part-time resident of Mitchell, S.D., and a DWU alumnus.

C-SPAN went forward with its two-hour “Contenders” episode without McGovern.  A panel discussed McGovern’s 1972 race, and the series aired video clips of him, according to The Daily Republic.