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Nigerian physician, Bennet Omalu, bags US medical honour

Having been scorned for many years, American-based Nigerian physician, Dr. Bennet Omalu, has bagged American Medical Association (AMA) honour for disease discovery.

Omalu, who graduated  from the University of Nigeria at the of age 16, first discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in 2002, but was discredited by researchers.

The disease which has been confirmed by postmortem examination in dozens of American athletes, was first diagnosed in an NFL player in 2002 by Omalu. It is now the subject of a film, Concussion, featuring Will Smith as the star actor.

Omalu, forensic neuropathologist, who made the initial discovery, has overcome massive efforts to discredit him and his research because CTE has been widely recognized as a health risk in millions of patients with histories of repetitive brain trauma, including military veterans.

According to AMA news, the Association on Saturday (November 12, 2016) honoured Omalu with its Distinguished Service Award during the opening session of the 2016 AMA Interim Meeting, in Orlando, Florida.

Omalu was working as a forensic neuropathologist in Pittsburgh when he conducted postmortem examinations of former NFL offensive lineman Mike Webster’s brain and spotted what would become the hallmarks of CTE.

“When I looked at his brain and he had diffuse amyloid plaques everywhere and there were no neuritic plaques … I took the slides home with me,” Dr. Omalu said
in a 2015 interview.

“I spent six months with those slides. I saw CTE randomly situated, and not reminiscent of any other dementia that I knew.

“My first reaction, when I went to the literature, was that I expected to find previous reports like this, but I didn’t find even one.”

He had the case published in 2005 and went on to identify CTE in postmortem examinations of numerous other former NFL players.

At the time he discovered CTE,  the Nigerian-born Omalu was not a U.S. citizen, and his immigration status was dependent on his continued employment. He became a citizen in 2015.

He stuck to his findings in the face of intense pressure, and in 2009—seven years after his discovery—the NFL relented and publicly acknowledged the link between concussions sustained in football and CTE.

“Because of the service Omalu has rendered to every player and every family member in the football and other sporting communities, I am delighted to present him, on behalf of the AMA, with the Distinguished Service Award—our highest honor,” AMA President Andrew W. Gurman, said in a statement.

“His meritorious service is all the more remarkable given that Dr. Omalu was relatively junior at the time of his discovery, having only completed his pathology residency a few years prior to describing CTE.”

Dr. Gurman said he strongly believes “that Dr. Omalu—by his work, determination and dedication—strongly exemplifies the best of American medicine.”

A 20-year member of the AMA, Dr. Omalu serves as chief medical examiner for the San Joaquin County Coroner’s Office in California and is a clinical associate professor in the University of California, Davis, Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Omalu was born in Nnokwa, Idemili South, Anambra state in 1968, the sixth of seven siblings. NAN