'There's so many things wrong with them'

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 22, 2012 - 6:32 AM

A New Jersey doctor has founded an organization to provide comprehensive medical care to retired professional athletes.

hide

Dr. William Focazio heads a network of specialists that offers comprehensive medical care — often free — to retired professional athletes.

Photo: Aaron Houston, Special to the Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

CLIFTON, N.J. - Dr. William Focazio, a New Jersey gastroenterologist, wasn't aware of the hardships and suffering that many former NFL players endure until he watched a TV story that highlighted the issue. He decided he could help.

Focazio founded an organization called Pain Alternatives, Solutions and Treatments, also known as PAST, a New Jersey-based network of doctors who provide comprehensive medical care -- often pro bono -- to retired professional athletes.

Mike Mosley is typical of the clients. The former Buffalo Bills wide receiver suffers from spinal stenosis -- a narrowing of the spinal canal -- and a crushed vertebrae in his lower back. He also needs wrist fusion surgery, shoulder surgery, ankle reconstruction and two knee replacements. The constant pain prevents him from sleeping more than two hours at a time at night.

But thanks to PAST, he's hopeful for the first time in years. "I'm on the right road for sure," Mosley, 54, said.

Focazio owns several surgical centers and had resources and connections to doctors in various fields. He enlisted a team of specialists with a mission to improve lives by providing a holistic approach to care.

Clients receive a comprehensive treatment plan under one umbrella, as opposed to a fragmented approach by a web of specialists who may or may not communicate with each other. Focazio finds no real value in sending someone to rehab for painkiller addiction, for instance, if that person emerges still dealing with chronic pain, debilitating injuries and emotional issues.

"There's so many things wrong with them," Focazio said.

Focazio's team includes orthopedic surgeons, spine specialists, neurologists, cardiologists, hormone experts, psychiatrists, pain management doctors, internists, chiropractors and other medical specialists. Each doctor donates time and services. Most of the medical care is handled at Focazio's two-story surgical center in this Newark suburb.

"My regular patients, you see one disc problem and you can help them," said Dr. Amrish Patel, who specializes in pain management. "These guys come in with three or four disc problems in their neck, three or four disc problems in their lower back. It's just unbelievable."

PAST has treated several hundred athletes and currently has a waiting list. The majority of clients played in the NFL, but the program is available to athletes from other sports. Most hear about the program through word of mouth.

So far, PAST has provided more than $4 million of pro bono care, according to Jennifer Smith, director of player programs.

"I don't like to think about it," Focazio said with a laugh.

So why do it?

"What do I get out of it?" Focazio asked, pausing. "The joy. There's nothing that beats the feeling of gratification that a patient has when he starts to feel better and you help them. That's really it, believe it or not. I love these guys. It's such a great feeling to do. I get inner peace from it. That's why I practice medicine."

Focazio said he tried to align his program with the NFL in the early stages, but a partnership never formed. An NFL spokesman wrote in an e-mail that "we have no affiliation with Dr. Focazio."

"Independence is important," Smith said. "Would it be great to have funding from them or grants? Yeah. But in order to maintain the success we have with these players, you have to be autonomous."

The cases are complicated because they usually involve extensive physical damage and chronic pain, often coupled with depression and substance abuse, typically painkillers. Smith said 40 percent of their clients require inpatient drug rehab at some point.

PAST sends clients struggling with addiction to Turning Point, a treatment facility in Paterson, N.J. Turning Point helped create a program that fully integrates PAST's medical team so players continue to receive a comprehensive plan that focuses on their physical pain, addiction and any concussion-related issues.

Turning Point executive director Dr. Manuel Guantez also works with former New York Jets quarterback Ray Lucas and other PAST clients who serve as peer mentors to teach them new skills and techniques so that they can help athletes who are entering the program.

Focazio said the quantity of pills being consumed by many former athletes he treats is staggering.

"It's almost inhuman," he said.

Mosley used painkillers at different times in his three-year NFL career but depended on them regularly as he grew older and his body failed. He took as many as 24 pills a day to cope with his chronic pain. He needed four in the morning "just to get out of bed" but has since lowered his usage to five Vicodin a day. His medical needs are complex, but PAST doctors are formulating a plan to help him regain control of his life, which Mosley described as a "godsend."

"I never thought I could be at some place like this," he said. "I thought I would be miserable or on more pain pills. I'd die taking them. I've tried to keep it [pill consumption] down. I think because I'm so used to pain, I can keep it down a little bit. I take enough, but I don't take as many as I want."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 3 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: T. Hudson 2
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Carolina
Dallas 117 FINAL
Orlando 92
New York 80 FINAL
Toronto 83
San Antonio 87 FINAL
Houston 96
Miami 104 FINAL
Memphis 98
Minnesota 113 FINAL
Chicago 112
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Utah 100
Sacramento 93 FINAL
LA Lakers 92
Denver 112 FINAL
Golden State 119
Portland 99 FINAL
LA Clippers 89
Dallas 3 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Tampa Bay 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Colorado 7
Carolina 3 FINAL
Edmonton 6
Columbus 1 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 17 FINAL
Cincinnati 34
Troy 13 FINAL
South Alabama 27
BYU 30 FINAL
Boise State 55
(6) Oregon 59 FINAL
California 41
North Texas 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10:59 PM
Hawaii
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Louisville
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulane
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Memphis
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Houston 1 FINAL
Chicago 2
Montreal 23 FINAL
Ottawa 17
Saskatchewan 27 FINAL
Calgary 40
Hamilton 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who wins and loses in football this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close