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2016 BBB Integrity Awards Keynote Speaker Discovers More Than Just a Neurological Breakthrough 11/17/16  11/17/16 11:23:24 AM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version

Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and whose breakthrough was chronicled in the Will Smith film Concussion, was the guest speaker at the BBB Integrity Awards.      
2016 BBB Integrity Awards Keynote Speaker
Discovers More Than Just a Neurological Breakthrough

Julien R. Fielding
The Daily Record

The Better Business Bureau created the Integrity Awards to honor those companies, large and small, that go “above and beyond’ to make a customer’s experience the best it can possibly be, and during lunch at the Embassy Suites Conference Center in La Vista earlier this month, this year’s recipients received recognition for their efforts.
Of the more than 600 companies that applied, only nine came away with the coveted award, including: Visiting Nurse Association (charity, 25-plus employees), NP Dodge Company (250-499), McKinnis (100-249), Arbor Bank (25-99), Midlands Mentoring Partnership, and RESPECT (both charities, 24 or fewer employees), Turner Technology (11-24), Husker Hammer Siding Windows and Roofing (5-10), and Bel Air Fashions (1-4).
Silver Awards were also given. Recipients were: One World Community Health Centers (charity, 25-plus), Gordmans, and Pinnacle Bank (both 500-plus), Midwest Eye Care (100-249), Silver Hammer CARSTAR & Northwest CARSTAR, and ACCESSbank (both 25-99), FirstLight Home Care (11-24), and Business Ventures (1-4).
A Bronze Award went to The Harry A. Koch Co. (100-249). The Omaha World Herald was also honored for its 80-year membership to the BBB; it joined in 1936.
Before receiving their awards, the recipients explained in a short video what the honor meant to them. Dave McKinnis, owner of McKinnis, said that when he started his roofing and siding company 35 years ago, he built it on a foundation of “quality, integrity, service and family.”
Nate Dodge, president of NP Dodge, agreed. He said that his family’s company, which was founded in 1855, has always had integrity as a cornerstone of its practices.
“This isn’t a popularity contest. That’s why it’s so important,” said Matt Cradick, president of Husker Hammer.
“It’s about making a difference,” said Rick Turner, founding partner at Turner Technology.
“We practice what we preach,” said Dr. Patricia Newman, founder and executive director of RESPECT.
The luncheon’s attendees had the privilege of listening to the captivating story of keynote speaker Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist made famous by the Will Smith-led biopic, Concussion (2015). Omalu began by saying that there is “nothing exceptional” about him.
“I was born in Nigeria in 1968, during a civil war,” he said. “Why they conceived of me during a time of war, I don’t know … There were seven of us. I was the sixth child. My family lived as refugees, like the Syrians. I suffered malnutrition and psychological trauma at an early age. I had a social disorder – they thought I was autistic – and I struggled with depression.”
People picked on him. They made fun of him – even his siblings – but he found a way to escape, he said, and that was through education. “I overcompensated by seeking knowledge because, with knowledge, you are unstoppable,” he said.
Because of his exceptional grades, Omalu had to attend medical school, so at 15 he began his studies at one of the Top 3 medical schools in his country. “The smartest kids went to medical school,” he said.
“I wanted to be a pilot. I was a lonely person, and my depression got worse. I dropped out then eventually went back.” He graduated at 21.
After medical school, Omalu decided that all he wanted to be was himself. “I saw America as a place where I could be whatever I wanted to be,” he said.
“In 1994, I came to Seattle. I rented a room in the university district from an elderly lady. It was in a predominantly white neighborhood.”
Omalu said that he had no knowledge of America’s history of slavery or racism, but he got a lesson firsthand: during his first few weeks in the U.S., he was routinely stopped by the police, often by the same officers.
In 2002, he got a job as a forensic pathologist. “I did all the weekends and holidays,” he said.
One night, around 2 or 3 a.m., he turned on the TV and saw a report about a “great athlete who had died.” “He didn’t do as well in life as he had on the field,” he said. “He was destitute.”
Not really knowing who this person was or anything about the sport that had made him famous, Omalu went to work the next day and, to his surprise, found that very same person on “his table.”
The man was legendary Pittsburgh Steeler and Hall of Famer, Mike Webster. He died at 50 years old of a massive heart attack.
Omalu wasn’t satisfied; he wanted to know more. “This was a confluence of my life’s experience,” he said.
“I saw myself in Mike Webster. I talked to him: ‘I think you are a victim of the game you play. Guide me. Walk me through this.’ I didn’t know what a quarterback was (Webster was a center). I didn’t know what a touchdown was.”
He did, however, know that any sport in which its players sustain repeated blows to the head, meant something.
“I opened up his head – his brain looked normal – but I wasn’t satisfied. I was going to get to the bottom of this. My office said I couldn’t cut up his brain; I had to pay for it, so I did. I spent six months with his brain.
“This game is the most popular sport in America. Webster had seen the best doctors in America, and yet not one made this diagnosis.”
But Dr. Bennet Omalu did. He made a career breakthrough when he became the first doctor to discover and identify chronic brain damage as a major factor in the deaths of some professional athletes. He called this disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.
“The truth doesn’t have a side or a perspective,” he said. “We all share a common spirit. I see myself in you. What I do to you, I do to all of us. I used my knowledge and education to get to the truth. The truth will always prevail. Whatever you do, truth enhances all of us, the common humanity we share. If it helps only one or a few … it’s not the truth.”
After a lifetime of depression and struggle, Omalu had not only revealed a neurological development, but he had also experienced a personal breakthrough.
“I realized that there can be only one me; there is no duplicate. And the best thing you can do is be yourself.”
Within five years of reporting Webster’s case, Omalu identified more cases of CTE in deceased NFL players, in military veterans with PTSD, and in professional wrestlers. Although his findings were summarily dismissed, and even ridiculed, he stood his ground.
Today, CTE is more generally accepted, and his findings have revolutionized neuroscience, sports medicine and safety.
Omalu said that his goal in coming to the United States was to live a simple life, so how was it that he came to discover something so critical? Something no one else discovered?
He said that during the making of Concussion, he realized that it was because he was an outsider. He had no previous knowledge of football, and therefore, hadn’t been caught up in its hype and mystique.
“It took a buffoon, a football outsider” to look at this very dangerous sport and its consequences, objectively and critically, he said.
For more information regarding the Better Business Bureau’s Integrity Awards, please go to: http://www.bbb.org/nebraska.

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