Controversial Canadian doctor Anthony Galea: cutting edge or over the edge?

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 6, 2010

U.S. and Canadian court documents paint Toronto doctor Anthony Galea as an unscrupulous quack who dashed around the United States last summer making clandestine house calls to 23 professional athletes despite not being licensed to practice in the country.

Yet respected sports officials and doctors close to Galea describe him as a progressive physician who for the past decade has been at the cutting edge of sports medicine, using innovative techniques and alternative therapies to build an almost cult-like following among athletes who regard him as a miracle healer.

By last year, Galea was so renowned in the athlete community that golfer Tiger Woods, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, figure skater Patrick Chan and Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss sought him out.

"You hear this guy is great, and you're trying to find ways not to have surgery," said a prominent athlete who has received treatment from Galea but requested anonymity because of federal charges pending against Galea. "To me, a huge light bulb went off . . . I was just going to him because of his reputation."

According to an indictment filed in U.S. federal court in the Western District of New York on May 18, Galea's unorthodoxy extended so far that between 2007 and late last year, he sent illegal, unapproved and other drugs over the U.S. border with a medical assistant, meeting up with her to provide treatments with an array of drugs to players from the NFL, Major League Baseball and PGA Tour.

Galea's medical assistant, Mary Anne Catalano, told U.S. and Canadian investigators that Galea injected drug cocktails containing human growth hormone (HGH), a performance-enhancing drug banned by nearly every sports organization in the world, into the injured knees of some athletes. Galea has denied giving any athletes any drugs banned by their sports.

The picture that emerges of Galea as the case proceeds through the U.S. and Canadian courts could be critical if concrete evidence links specific athletes to HGH treatments. Though Canadian court documents state that "it is quite possible that some of the Professional athletes are totally unaware of the fact that they were receiving unapproved drugs," skeptical anti-doping officials say ignorance would be no excuse.

They say the athletes that entrusted their livelihoods to Galea were at best reckless and perhaps complicit in wrongdoing. And, if they received performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) from Galea, whether for healing injuries or bulking up, they should be considered cheaters.

"You go up to see somebody doing experimental treatment, you better be damn sure you know exactly what your doctor is doing," said Steven Ungerleider, an anti-doping expert who has written numerous books on drugs in sport. "Clearly, everybody who went to see him knew this guy was on the edge of the fringe, doing illegal things . . . At the end of the day, it's doping."

Chris Rudge, who led the Canadian Olympic team at the Winter Games in Vancouver as the chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee, expressed dismay at the "hysterical perspective" contained in some commentary about the case. Rudge, whose half-pipe snowboarding daughter Diane and other family members received treatment from Galea for many years, described Galea as "exceptionally professional" and a "leader" among Canada's top sports medicine specialists.

"I hope at some point this gets into an environment in which the facts are established," said Rudge, who left the COC in April after a seven-year term.

Added Rudge: "From a generic perspective, if we were to deprive innovation in life, society wouldn't advance very quickly, would it? . . . If there is a doctor who has established a reputation for understanding the needs of athletes, and being sensitive to those needs, and recognizing an athlete's injury as something very unique to an athlete, then athletes are going to gravitate to that type of environment."

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