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. 


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.

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.





Mistrial Declared In Parking-Punch Case, Guilty Pleas In Shopping-Cart Case


Posted on 26th November 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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We recently wrote about two grizzly attacks in Manhattan that resulted in traumatic brain injury for their victims. There has been news on both cases.

In the first case, a large man was on trial for punching a 4-foot-11 woman in the face in a fight over a parking spot. The woman sustained brain damage, was in a coma for days and is now wearing a helmet to protect her skull until she undergoes additional surgery.

In the other case, two youths allegedly dropped a shopping cart from a mall railing onto a philanthropist who had gone shopping in Harlem for Halloween candy. The victim is in a coma.

In the punching incident, on Nov. 14 a mistrial was declared in the case of Oscar Fuller, who delivered a full-force blow to the face of Lana Rosas of the Bronx. A sole male juror held out on the jury panel, resulting in the mistrial.

Fuller struck Rosas as they were arguing nose-to-nose because she was trying to save a parking spot on East 14th Street in Manhattan by standing in the middle of it. The woman was knocked down and hit her head on the pavement.  

Trying to hold a parking space in Manhattan is a no-no. But it obviously doesn’t warrant a punch to the head.

Rosas was in a coma for nine days, underwent surgery and had part of her skull removed, and now has to wear a helmet until that piece of bone is put back.

According to the New York Post, the prosecutor’s case for felony assault was hard to prove because Fuller only hit Rosas once, raising reasonable doubt about whether he meant to do serious harm to her. Fuller will be retried.

In the shopping cart incident, both youths who threw the cart on top of Marion Hedges, 47, have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from their Oct. 30 “prank.” She remains in Harlem Hospital in a coma from her head injuries.

On Wednesday a 12-year-old, identified only as Raymond H., pleaded guilty to a reduced assault charge for throwing the cart off a four-story elevated walkway. He can be held in a detention facility until his 18th birthday, according to the New York Daily News.

The other youth involved in the prank, 13-year-old Jeovanni R., pleaded guilty to the same charge a week ago, the News reported.

The judge refused to release both youths to their families pending their sentencings. 

Maybe being incarcerated until they are 18 will make this idiotic pair figure out why it’s not funny to hit someone in the head with a parking cart.      


Former Green Bay Packer Forrest Gregg Has Parkinson’s Disease, Which Has Been Linked To Head Injuries


Posted on 24th November 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Forrest Gregg, an ex-Green Bay Packer Hall of Famer, has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Is that malady linked to he concussions and brain injuries that he sustained during his career?

That’s the intriguing question raised by sports columnist Brooke McGee of the Bleacher Report.

Right now Gregg has developed hand tremors, a stooped posture and smaller stride, according to McGee.  A Parkinson’s expert, Dr. Rajeev Kumar, has diagnosed Gregg with the disease.

The columnist then goes on to cite research from the Mayo Clinic, which says, “those who have experienced a head injury are four times more likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease than those who have never suffered a head injury. The risk of developing Parkinson’s increases eightfold for patients who have had head trauma requiring hospitalization, and it increases 11-fold for patients who have experienced severe head injury.”

The sounds like pretty convincing data to make one believe that Gregg’s Parkinson’s was prompted by the many concussions that the NFL veteran suffered while playing for Green Bay and Dallas, according to McGee.

And we’d have to agree.

It’s unfortunate that the league stuck its head in the sand, and then was in utter denial for so long, about the long-term impact of head injuries and concussions on players.   



Dangerous Manhattan: A Sucker Punch And A Shopping Cart Spell TBI


Posted on 5th November 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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New York City can be an unpredictable, dangerous place when it comes to traumatic brain injury.

Just look at two recent cases: a petite woman was struck in the face with a knockout punch by a man during a argument over a parking space, and a do-gooder socialite who was buying candy in East Harlem for underprivileged kids was hit in the head by a shopping cart that two 12-year-olds purposely dropped on her.

The New York Post and other New York City newsapers reported on both incidents,

In the first instance, a jury now has the felony assault case against Oscar Fuller in Manhattan, according to The Post . He is charged with giving 4-foot-11 Lana Rosas a punch directly in the face, a blow so hard that she was knocked to the sidewalk.

What prompted Fuller’s vicious attack on Rosas? They got into a fight over a parking space in February.

Rosas was badly hurt. Her head injury caused her brain to swell, and to relieve the pressure doctors had to remove part of her skull, implanting it in her abdomen until it can be returned to her skull.

The victim wears a helmet all the time to protect her head and unprotected brain, until the skull piece gets reattached. She is now suffering from memory loss and mood swings, according to the Post.

In the other case, Marion Hedges, a 47-year-old Manhattan real estate agent, remained in  a medically induced coma Saturday, the Post reported. She had gone to a Costco in East Harlem last Sunday with her 13-year-old son to pick up Halloween candy.

When she was leaving, two 12-year-old boys — who both laughed after their action — dropped a shopping cart from a fourth-story mall walkway on Hedges, striking her in the head. Her young son witnessed the tragic event.

The 12-year-olds have been charged with first-degree assault.

The mother of one of the young defendants, Rosemary Rosario, cried and apologized for her son’s actions as she left court Friday, according to the Post.

Here’s hoping that and Rosas and Hedges recover from their brain injuries as swiftly as possible.      


New York High School Football Player Died Of Brain Hematoma


Posted on 19th October 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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An autopsy has detemined that a 16-year-old New York State  high school football player died from a massive subdural hematoma, blood collected on his brain,  last weekend,  and that his death was an accident.

But that determination, that a cerebral hemorrhage killed him, doesn’t really explain why Ridge Barden died.

The demise of Barden, who played for a high school not far from Syracuse in Phoenix, N.Y., is tragic on many levels, as outlined by a story in the sports section of The New York Times on Monday. The article was headline “Sudden Death of Player Raises Difficult Questions.”

The Friday night game that became Barden’s undoing was his team’s final game this season, and it was Barden’s first varsity start, according to The Times.

“How could a ceremonious moment turn terrible?” the paper asked. How indeed.

In the play that took Barden down, all the other players got up from a pile-up except Barden, who was face down on the field. Barden’s coach, a physician and two EMTs ran onto the gridiron, and found that Barden was conscious but dazed.

But the youth’s condition went south fast. He attempted to stand up, but collapsed. He was gone a couple of hours later.     

The perplexing thing about Barden’s case is that he was not directly hit during the play right before he became ill according to The Times.

“On the play that left Barden on the ground, he did not have contact with another player,” The Times quoted coach Jeff Charles as saying, adding that the youth had “missed a cut block.”

According to The Times, Charles said, “It was on a previous play that Barden had some helmet-to-helmet contact when he was blocked by a offensive lineman. He got up gingerly…”

While Barden may have appeared OK after that play, in retrospect it lookes like he wasn’t.  

According to The Post-Standard of Syracuse, Cortland County Coroner Kevin Sharp said that an autopsy determined that Barden’s hematioma, and the discovery of some bruising to his brain, was consistent with helmet-to-helmet contact.

Barden didn’t have any prior injury that was a factor in his death, nor did he sustain a skull fracture from the helmet-to-helmet contact, The Post-Standard reported.

The paper also wrote that Sharp said, “There also was no indication the injury resulted from any series of impacts during the game… It appeared the injury resulted from the single impact on that one play in the game.”

Sharp said officials are still investigating to determine Barden’s fatal injury came about, and will likely include looking at video of the game.

Barden’s coach, Charles, told The Times that the youth’s death was “the most bizarre thing” he’d ever seen in his careet.

Let’s hope it is the last time he sees anything like it.

Physicians, Coaches Form Concussion ‘Cooperative’ Group


Posted on 3rd April 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Doctors, coaches, equipment makers and parents are teaming up to study concussions, forming the National Sports Concussion Cooperative, according to the Associated Press.

The first meeting of the new group is set for May, with the American Football Coaches Association, the University of North Carolina’s traumatic brain injury research center, Rawlings Sporting Goods and the Matthew Gfeller Foundation among those participating. They are the founders of the group.

The Gfeller foundation was created by the parents of Matthew Gfeller, a high school student who died of brain injuries he sustained playing football in 2008. The North Carolina research center is named after deceased youth.

The concussion cooperative wants “to create a sort of clearinghouse for information on sports-related brain injuries,” according to AP.

The idea is to pool ideas and make suggestions for : guidelines for returning to a game after a concussion; coaching techniques; equipment design; and incorporating research into the process.

It sounds like a plan.   



Decade-Old Football Helmets Are On Their Way Out For Our Kids


Posted on 12th March 2011 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Parents who have kids who play football can rest a little bit easier: Manufacturers are going to stop refurbishing helmets that are more than 10 years old.

The New York Times reported that the trade association that monitors the refurbishing of old helmets, the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (Naera), on Thursday said it would no longer take helmets that were more than a decade old.

There is a rub. High school and youth football governing bodies only require that helmets pass a standard that has been set by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (Nocsae). According to The Times, that basically means that old helmets can be worn by young players, even if those helmets are really not protecting kids from concussions the way they should.

Schools can have their football helmets reconditioned on a voluntary basis.

So what’s the bottom line?

“Naera’s decision to reject helmets more than 10 years old will force organizations to choose between purchasing new helmets or putting youngsters in used helmets known to be less safe,” according to The Times.

In fact, the newspaper quotes some experts that believe now old helmets will be put out of circulation.

Naera is reacting to pressure that started when the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) began a probe of football helmet safety. And Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., also requested that the Federal Trade Commission investigate the two major helmet makers, Riddell and Schutt, for allegely making false claims about the safety of their helmets.

There has also been a call in Washington for a hearing on football helmet safety, including the use of old helmets, The Times reported.

Even though experts warn against the safety risk of using old helmets, the National Federation of State High School Assocations has lets schools decide what kind of helmets they want to use, including old ones. Why? New helmets cost more than refurbished ones. 

School budgets are getting cut these days, but someone better find the funds to pay for gear that protects our kids.