Bennet Omalu, a 48-year-old Nigerian doctor, who was the first person in the world to identify, describe and name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), has been awarded the highest medical award in the United States.
After discovering CTE in Max Webster, one of the best American footballers in his days, Omalu presented a paper on his findings, addressing the National Football League, but met stiff opposition.
The NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) Committee later called for the retraction of Omalu’s paper in May 2006, calling his work a failure, and describing it as completely wrong.
But Omalu, who was born in Nnokwa, Idemili South, Anambra state, in September 1968, was eventually justified, with his discovery changing the face of American football, for which he was initially ridiculed.
Presenting the award to Omalu, earlier in November, Andrew Gurman, the president of the American Medical Association (AMA), said Omalu is without question, the winner of the distinguished service award.
“Only two awards are mentioned in the AMA by-laws; one is the distinguised service award, which is presented to a member of the association for meritorious service in the art and science of medicine; it is our highest award,” Gurman said.
“Without question, this year’s recipient of the distinguished service award, advance both the science and the art of medicine. In 2002, he found substantial brain damage, during the autopsy of a 50-year-old former centre for the Pittsburg Steelers.
“Subsequently, he identified chronic brain damage, as a major factor in the death of other professional athletes, particularly football players. He called the disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE.
“Despite considerable ridicule from those profiting from athletic contest,he prevailed. Today, CTE is widely accepted as a clinical . The recipient of this year’s distinguished service award is Dr Bennet Omalu.”
Delivering his acceptance speech before the AMA house of delegates, Omalu said what he found out with CTE, that science and faith actually go together.
“I discovered that science and faith actually go together, because, science and faith seek the truth, and there can only be one truth. Truth is truth; truth doesn’t have a perspective, or a side.
“Faith seeks the common truth that science seeks, so faith and science synergise with each other. That is why I am standing before you today.
“In practising the humanity of your faith and the humanity of your science, you must seek the truth and stand with the truth, because come what may, the truth will always prevail, it may take a long time.”
Omalu attended the Federal Government College, Enugu, before moving to University of Nigeria, Nsukka, at 16, bagging his a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) at 22.
He also has a masters of business administration (MBA) from Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.