'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 "gosend."

"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

NY Yankees - LP: M. Pineda 0 FINAL
Toronto - WP: D. Hutchison 2
Detroit - LP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: C. Sale 6
Chicago Cubs - WP: F. Doubront 5 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: J. Masterson 1
Cincinnati - LP: A. Simon 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: V. Worley 3
Minnesota - LP: J. Burton 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 3
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 7 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: B. Colon 2
Miami - WP: J. Cosart 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: A. Harang 0
Boston - LP: A. Webster 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Odorizzi 7
Cleveland - WP: J. Tomlin 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: S. Downs 2
Detroit - WP: K. Ryan 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: C. Bassitt 4
Texas - LP: P. Klein 0 FINAL
Houston - WP: S. Feldman 2
Colorado - WP: T. Matzek 2 FINAL
Arizona - LP: V. Nuno 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wada 2 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 13
Los Angeles 1 Bottom 10th Inning
San Diego 1
Milwaukee 1 Top 9th Inning
San Francisco 3
Oakland - LP: J. Samardzija 0 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: Y. Herrera 2
Washington 3 Bottom 9th Inning
Seattle 1
Green Bay 9/4/14 7:30 PM
Seattle
BYU 35 FINAL
Connecticut 10
(6) Jacksonville St 7 FINAL
(8) Michigan State 45
Bowling Green 31 FINAL
Western Ky 59
TX-San Antonio 27 FINAL
Houston 7
Colorado State 31 FINAL
Colorado 17
UNLV 13 FINAL
Arizona 58
Penn State 26 FINAL
UCF 24
Troy 10 FINAL
UAB 48
(7) UCLA 28 FINAL
Virginia 20
Western Mich 34 FINAL
Purdue 43
(5) Ohio State 34 FINAL
Navy 17
Appalachian St 14 FINAL
Michigan 52
Ga Southern 23 FINAL
NC State 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Massachusetts 7
West Virginia 23 FINAL
(2) Alabama 33
Rice 17 FINAL
(17) Notre Dame 48
(10) South Dakota St 18 FINAL
(24) Missouri 38
Fla Atlantic 7 FINAL
(22) Nebraska 55
California 31 FINAL
Northwestern 24
Marshall 42 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 27
UC Davis 0 FINAL
(11) Stanford 45
Arkansas 21 FINAL
(6) Auburn 45
(16) Clemson 21 FINAL
(12) Georgia 45
Liberty 29 FINAL
(23) North Carolina 56
Ohio U 17 FINAL
Kent State 14
Louisiana Tech 16 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 48
Stephen F Austin 16 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 55
Fresno State 13 FINAL
(15) USC 52
Southern Miss 0 FINAL
Miss State 49
Texas-El Paso 31 FINAL
New Mexico 24
North Texas 7 FINAL
Texas 38
(1) Florida State 37 FINAL
Oklahoma State 31
(14) Wisconsin 24 4th Qtr 12:08
(13) LSU 19
Idaho 0 Postponed
Florida 0
(25) Washington 17 3rd Qtr
Hawaii 10
South Dakota 6 2nd Qtr 3:57
(3) Oregon 35
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Pittsburgh 9/5/14 6:00 PM
Boston College
Washington St 9/5/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
SMU 9/6/14 11:00 AM
North Texas
Fla Atlantic 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(2) Alabama
Buffalo 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Army
(24) Missouri 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Toledo
Arkansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
(8) McNeese State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(22) Nebraska
Central Mich 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Akron 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
Western Ill 9/6/14 11:00 AM
(14) Wisconsin
(20) Kansas State 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
(4) Oklahoma 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Tulsa
Western Ky 9/6/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
SC State 9/6/14 11:30 AM
(16) Clemson
Navy 9/6/14 12:00 PM
Temple
UAB 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Miss State
South Alabama 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Kent State
New Mexico St 9/6/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Colorado 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Fresno State 9/6/14 2:00 PM
Utah
(1) Eastern Wash 9/6/14 2:00 PM
(25) Washington
(15) USC 9/6/14 2:30 PM
(11) Stanford
Ohio U 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Middle Tennessee 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Northern Ill 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Missouri State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Ball State 9/6/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Maryland 9/6/14 2:30 PM
So Florida
Eastern Mich 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Florida
Georgia Tech 9/6/14 3:00 PM
Tulane
(18) Ole Miss 9/6/14 3:30 PM
Vanderbilt
Old Dominion 9/6/14 5:00 PM
NC State
(8) Michigan State 9/6/14 5:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(19) Arizona State 9/6/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico
Louisiana Tech 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
San Jose St 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(6) Auburn
East Carolina 9/6/14 6:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Duke 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Troy
Idaho 9/6/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(17) Sam Houston St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(13) LSU
Michigan 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
Lamar 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(21) Texas A&M
Northwestern St 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
BYU 9/6/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Citadel 9/6/14 6:30 PM
(1) Florida State
San Diego St 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Virginia Tech 9/6/14 7:00 PM
(5) Ohio State
Memphis 9/6/14 9:00 PM
(7) UCLA
Colorado State 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Boise State
Air Force 9/6/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 9/6/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Texas Tech 9/6/14 10:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Colorado 0 FINAL
Seattle 1
New England 3 FINAL
Toronto FC 0
Columbus 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
FC Dallas 0 FINAL
Chicago 1
Real Salt Lake 1 2nd Half 25:00
San Jose 1
Portland 1 2nd Half 25:00
Vancouver FC 0
Ottawa 10 FINAL
Montreal 20
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Chicago 70 FINAL
Indiana 77
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 Noon
Sep 14 - vs. New England Noon
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
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: How many fantasy football teams do you draft?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close