Dr. Derek Shepard from Grey’s Anantomy ain’t got nothing on Dr. Julian Bailes. Dr. Bailes is the head neurosurgeon for both the NFL and the NCAA and the leader in the current (and long overdue) discussion about the terrible long-term effects of brain injuries and concussions in sports. And I was blessed to spend the last ninety minutes with. He lives in my hometown (Morgantown, WV) and I’ve heard about him for years. I’ve read articles written about him in GQ Magazine, Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and more, and watched him on ESPN, on network news programs, testifying before congress—but until today didn’t have the pleasure of meeting.
This man is on a mission to figure out how to prevent concussions and decrease post-traumatic stress to the brain after having one. Julian (as he prefers to be called) told us a little about how the brain works, how injuries affect it, and the aftermath of those injuries. He’s on a common path with the likes of Dr. John Bodnar and Eddie Casillas of the Asterisk Mobile Medics Unit, who have long championed awareness for this type of injury in motocross.
MX Sports is hoping to collaborate with Dr. Bailes and learn more about his expertise and how it’s being implemented in other risky sports like football and boxing. He is also working on supplements athletes can take to help reduce the side effects of head injuries. Right now he is promoting an omega-3 supplement called Brain Armor that was discovered at the WVU science lab. It’s loaded with 1,000mg of DHA. Through extensive research Dr. Bailes has found that taking the DHA supplement before a sporting event where athletes might be at risk (like before a football game or maybe a motocross race) and high doses of it after any trauma can decrease the damage while also increasing the healing rate. But I’ll leave the rest of what’s going on here to MX Sports and the Asterisk folks as they move forward.
I sat there and faded in and out of the conversation, I was really just there to listen and learn, but there were so many distractions in his office. NFL and college football helmets, plaques and awards, magazine covers he had adorned, skulls, and of course fake plastic brains. I was already feeling a little queezy from the two glasses of wine I had last night, and wondered what the heck he may have up his sleeve that might cure my brain from this tiny little hangover that I was feeling….
As I scanned his massive bookshelf of neuropathology, I snapped out of my own science-induced coma when Dr. Bailes said something about taking a tour of his research facilities. He had me at, “We’ve got a rat lab, would you care to see it?” The wanna-be surgeon in me perked up and said, “Of course!”
So we followed him down the very white and sterile corridor and into a lab that is shared with the WVU School of Medicine. He warned us that it may be a mess—and it did much resemble Davey’s desk. There was a doctor from Japan in a far-off corner and Bailes said, “She’s working on a human brain, do you care to take a peak?”
That caused me to flashback to 12th Grade Science class on the day we dissected a pig. I was in my element. Of course I wanted a closer view!
“Well, yeah!” I pretty much shouted, and marched right over to see what some incredible person had donated to science. It was just the head, and the skull was open so she could fish around inside the brain to find out easier ways to get to different nerves, layers, etc. He extended the offer to allow us to stop in during a real-life brain surgery—an offer I’m not going to turn down! Who knew Christmas would come so early?
We followed him out of the room, passing by a refrigerator that was -86 degrees and read, “This fridge is not used to store food or drinks.” Mmmm, I wonder what they keep in there…. Definitely not Reese Cups and Bon Bons. My mind started to wonder of all the body parts that might be sitting in a vat of formaldehyde just waiting to be pierced and prodded for the love of science.
We entered the rat lab. Here we found a long white rat, pinned down by all fours with a tube down his throat. They were inducing a stroke on this specimen, a process that would take two hours. Then afterward they would test his brain tissue (however geniuses test that kind of stuff) to continue to figure out how they can save people from horrible diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. I felt a little sad for the little white rodent because I could see his heart beating through his fur. I never thought there would come a time when that would happen. But that little guy was making a big sacrifice for human kind, and I now realize they were put on earth for a least one really great reason, not just to get into our garbage and find the best piece of leftover Jarlsberg cheese.
Today was by far the best field trip I’ve ever taken. It was a pleasure getting to hang with Dr. Julian Bailes. What an outstanding man. I look forward to following his success in this arena and maybe even helping him spread his word of his research, in motocross and anywhere else where concussions are a frequent problem.