Richard Atwood

Concussions and Hemophilia

Recently, a mother posted a question on a Facebook mothers’ group: how did everyone feel about allowing their child with severe hemophilia to go on roller coaster rides?

It’s a great question. During summer, I usually rerun one of our most popular “As I See It” pieces, on rollercoasters and head injuries, by the now retired but always great Dr. Richard Lipton, formerly of Long Island Jewish Hospital.

Also recently, our amazing archivist, Richard Atwood, of North Carolina, sent to us his review of the 2015 movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith, about the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It’s a fabulous movie, based on a true story, that uncovers how repeated head blows can lead to degenerative brain functioning. Hemophilia is mentioned in the movie.

Richard writes: “I’m surprised that the hemophilia community didn’t acknowledge this movie when it was released. Of course, it’s Hollywood. While the facts may be inaccurately portrayed, the movie still tells the important story of CTEs.”

So while there might be still time to visit an amusement park before summer ends, read this review, watch the movie and also read our article by Dr. Lipton.

During September 2002, in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania courtroom, Dr. Bennet Omalu testifies as an expert witness at the retrial, after the successful appeal, for a convicted murderer named Thomas Chambers. Dr. Omalu presents his credentials: medical degree from the University of Nigeria, residency at Columbia University, master’s degree in public health for epidemiology, board certification in pathology, certified physician executive in emergency medicine, completing an MBA at Carnegie-Mellon University, and a master’s degree in the theory of music from the Royal School of Music in London.

Dr. Omalu displays a blown-up photo of the hands from the female murder victim, showing blood, scratches, and torn fingernails, to demonstrate how she fought her killer, and lost. Dr. Omalu also displays a blown-up photo of the hands of the defendant, showing blood from the victim, but no wounds. Chambers claims that he only touched the female victim to aid her. Dr. Omalu is puzzled by these photos. He learns from the medical records that Chambers stated, “I hate blood,” because as a child, after he had a tooth pulled, the bleeding did not stop. There is a history of hemophilia in the family, yet Chamber’s father, when asked, stated that there is none. Dr. Omalu tests for a strain of hemophilia A so rare that it is not tested for. Thomas Chambers tests positive for hemophilia A. Dr. Omalu claims that if Chambers were scratched or bitten, then he would bleed to death. Therefore, convicting Chambers to a death sentence would be killing an innocent man.

Dr. Omalu, the most junior coroner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is on call when the body of Mike Webster, age 50, a former Pittsburgh Steelers football player, is brought to the morgue after his suicide. Dr. Omalu, at his own expense, studies Webster’s brain. When he finds tau protein in the brain slides, similar to the effects of Alzheimers’ disease, Dr. Omalu calls the condition Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). He publishes his case report in a medical journal. The National Football League disputes the scientific proof of CTE being caused by football collisions because, according to the NFL, football players do not experience concussions. Dr. Omalu finds CTE in the brains of other deceased former professional football players, but the NFL continues to dispute the results, even snubbing Dr. Omalu at a medical conference on concussions.

This movie is based on a true story. The Special Features selection on the DVD includes a short documentary film called ‘Inside the True Story.’ The real Dr. Bennet Omalu, Dr. Julian Bailes, Dr. Cyril Wecht, and Dr. Ronald Hamilton are interviewed. The viewer can compare these individuals to the actors who play them: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, and Stephen Meyer. The author Jeanne Marie Laskas, who wrote the article and the book about Dr. Omalu’s discovery of CTEs and his fight with the NFL, is listed as a consultant in the movie credits. Hemophilia is mentioned only in the short opening courtroom scene, in which Dr. Omalu is introduced to the movie audience. The movie states that certain names and situations have been altered, and this is evident from the retrial of the real individual with hemophilia named Thomas Kimbell (not ‘Thomas Chambers’), who never touched any of the four murder victims (not just one female). Will Smith does not exhibit the real Dr. Omalu’s short height, shrill voice, or shrieking laughter, and even tones down his Nigerian-formal English accent, yet he still portrays a convincing character role.

Concussion, 2015, Sony Pictures. Writer and Director: Peter Landesman

Cast: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks. Rated PG-13; 2 Hrs. 3 Mins.

Remembering Fathers in Hemophilia: Samuel Appleton

A tribute on Father’s Day to the first known father of a son with hemophilia in the Americas

by Richard Atwood

I search for intriguing stories about people with bleeding disorders. By discovering those stories, including historical ones, I always learn something valuable. Often, I find inspiration in the stories of other family members, as in the case of the Appletons, who were connected with the powerful origins of our country.

One father of a child with hemophilia was Major Samuel Appleton (1625–1696). His son, Oliver Appleton, was the first person identified with hemophilia to be born in the American colonies.1 Samuel spent a lifetime in public service fulfilling legislative, judicial, and military roles. He stuck to his principles about the illegality of improper taxation, and he remained calm in times of distress—during battle, and during the infamous Salem witch trials.

Samuel was only 11 when his family left England to settle in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. His father, also named Samuel, was one of the original settlers of historic Ipswich. The family owned a house and eight acres in town, and a 400-acre farm on the Ipswich River. 2

One of five children, Samuel grew up to help run the family farm and businesses. He married Hannah Paine in 1651, and they had three children. After his wife’s death, in 1656 he married Mary Oliver (1640–1698), a hemophilia carrier, and had eight more children, including Oliver in 1677. Oliver’s bleeding disorder was noted by family members, but probably not as a genetic condition. Only later, in retrospect, did family members realize the distinctness of the bleeding.

Due to periodic threats of Indian attacks, Samuel Appleton led the local militia. From lieutenant in 1668, he rose to the rank of captain during King Philip’s War, and commanded an infantry of 100 men. At the decisive battle near Hatfield along the Connecticut River in 1675, Samuel was commander-in-chief of more than 500 men. A turning point for the colonists, this battle proved that the Indian warriors could be defeated. During the fighting, a bullet passed through Samuel’s hair. If he had died then, his son Oliver with hemophilia would never have been born.

Samuel held several elected offices. As a legislator, he was a commissioner of Essex County in 1668. He was a representative of the General Court from 1669 to 1680. And he served on the Governor’s Council from 1681 to 1692. Appleton opposed the government of the colonial governor, Sir Edmond Andros. When in 1687 Andros levied a tax of one penny on a pound, the town of Ipswich refused to collect the tax, stating that it was against the rights of Englishmen for any taxes to be levied without consent of an assembly chosen by landowners, or “freeholders.” An arbitrary and illegal warrant was issued for the arrest of Samuel and other leaders in the opposition to the tax. Samuel took refuge in Saugus, where he stood on a rock and denounced the government. A Massachusetts historical marker now acknowledges the site as “Appleton’s Pulpit.” Refusing to apologize, Samuel was imprisoned in November 1687. He petitioned in January for his release due to his age and weakness, but wasn’t freed until March 1688, when he posted a 1,000-pound bond.

In 1689, during the coup of crown-appointed Governor Andros, Samuel and other leaders in the Massachusetts Bay Colony put Andros on a boat to the island prison in Boston Harbor. Colonial revolutionaries 100 years later simplified the opposition to taxes with the slogan “No taxation without representation.” But it’s important to remember that the ideas for the American Revolution began long before 1776: to be properly recognized, Ipswich adopted the motto “The Birthplace of American Independence 1687.”

Samuel Appleton served on the judiciary. He was a deputy to the Massachusetts General Court from 1668 to 1681. As a member of the Council of Assistants from 1681 to 1686, Samuel attended the examination of accused witches in Salem on April 11, 1692. His role may have been minor; he isn’t always listed as one of the seven judges. And apparently he did not serve as a judge in any of the trials that executed 20 alleged witches in 1692. On May 2, 1693, the first Supreme Court convened in Ipswich to try Andover residents charged with witchcraft. As a judge at that hearing, Samuel cleared everyone accused of witchcraft, ending the infamous witch trials and demonstrating his rationality. During the hysterical witchcraft proceedings in Salem, Oliver Appleton was a 15-year-old with hemophilia living at home in Ipswich.

The story of Major Samuel Appleton reveals essential information about colonial America. Some of our defining principles that we cherish today were sown by the colonists years before the revolution for independence. We need to honor those colonial leaders for their contributions, and remember that Major Samuel Appleton also raised a son with hemophilia.

1. “The Appletons: America’s ‘First Family’ with Hemophilia.” PEN, Nov. 2002.

2. That farm still exists today. Called Appleton Farms, it is the second oldest continuously run farm in America, now administered by the Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit conservation organization in Massachusetts.

© 2016 LA Kelley Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

The Bloody Book of Blood

Like the pages out of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, we’re seeing books get banned in some states. Math books, even!  Our favorite hemophilia archivist, Richard Atwood of North Carolina writes, “School libraries, and even their school librarians (can you believe it?), are under attack, with more and more books being banned for their content.” Richard provides a review below of juvenile literature that explains blood, including hemophilia, to young readers. He adds, “Kids seem to enjoy being grossed out!” And hopes it does not get banned!

This text on blood in Kelly Regan Barnhill’s  2010 book, The Bloody Book of Blood, is classified as juvenile literature. Hemophilia is included among the numerous blood topics. Hemophilia is explained in the section “Blood Disorders” that is accompanied with a photograph of a bruise on page 22. The text states: “Hemophilia is a rare, but serious blood disorder. This disease keeps a person’s blood from clotting properly. Patients with hemophilia need to be extra careful. A cut can bleed for days, and it may never heal completely. Even a small bruise can be a big problem. The extra blood pools under the skin, causing the bruise to grow to a huge size.”

Hemophilia is defined in the glossary, along with a pronunciation guide. The text states: “hemophilia (hee-muh-FIL-ee-uh) — a health condition in which blood does not clot normally.”

This is an educational book, part of The Amazingly Gross Human Body series that includes texts on blood, vomit, spit, snot, sweat, and… pee. This short book with a large font includes one page for a glossary, one page for an index, one page for “read more” and internet sites, 16 illustrations, and 4 “gross facts.” Michael Bentley, a professor of biology at Minnesota State University, Mankato, acted as a consultant.

“The author simplified the definition of hemophilia appropriately for juvenile readers, yet a simple note on proper treatment, and maybe genetics, would be beneficial,” Richard adds.

Kelly Regan Barnhill.  2010. The Bloody Book of Blood. Mankato. MN: Capstone Press. 32 pages.

A Passion for Music

Richard Atwood

Have you heard of the Currence Brothers? This band from West Virginia played and recorded gospel, bluegrass, and country music in the 1970s. The band members were known for their musical talent, especially with the banjo and fiddle. And two Currence brothers, plus their nephew, happened to have hemophilia. These band members overcame hardships to fulfill their passion for music.

            For five generations, the musically inclined Currence family lived in High Germany on the Randolph-Upshure county line in central West Virginia. They lived in a six-room house on a small farm, four miles from a paved road. The nearby one-room school in High Germany housed 45 students in eight grades.

            Every member of the large Currence family—including seven boys and five girls—either played a musical instrument or sang, though none was trained or ever had a music lesson. The children and their parents would listen to a battery-powered radio or hear live entertainment, then pick out the tune on guitar, fiddle, or mandolin. At home or in church, the family members sang and played musical instruments.

            There appeared to be no family history of hemophilia. That is, until one of the Currence boys, Junior (1923–1925), died at age two after he bled out from a bumped nose, and hemophilia was later suspected. Junior’s younger brothers Jimmie (1932–1992) and Loren (1934–1987) grew up with bleeding issues, but they never visited a doctor until they were teens. There was no ice for treatment and nothing for pain, though the reason for this is unclear. The brothers applied high-powered liniments from Blair products for hemorrhages into their joints.

            Jimmie and Loren seem to have visited at least one local doctor, and they were treated as “bleeders.” It’s possible that lack of money, transportation, and awareness of the need for a hematologist may have prevented visits to an appropriate specialist or hematology lab. Before factor VIII factor concentrates became available, the brothers received blood transfusions. Loren once received sixteen pints of blood for a kidney bleed. When Jimmie had a stomach bleed as a teenager, he received a pint of blood from his brother-in-law. The boys were often laid up from hemorrhages into their joints or from other internal bleeds.

            Jimmie and Loren didn’t have their hemophilia diagnosed until the early 1960s. Dr. Mabel M. Stevenson, a hematologist at Morgantown University Hospital, diagnosed severe classical hemophilia in both brothers, who then called themselves “severe hemophiliac bleeders with near-zero clotting factor.” Neither brother could ever find full-time employment or get insurance. They both received supplemental social security, and the state of West Virginia paid for their medicine because they couldn’t afford it. Both brothers married, and each had three daughters.

            Brothers Jimmie, Loren, Marvin (“Shorty”), and Buddy—along with Malcomb Pastine, a nephew who also had hemophilia—formed the Currence Brothers Band. Loren played guitar, sang, and managed the band. Jimmie played fiddle and banjo, winning banjo and fiddle contests in four states: West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Jimmie won the fiddling championship in West Virginia for four consecutive years, and was undefeated grand champion in Maryland in 1970. Then his elbow bleeds forced him to switch from fiddle to banjo. Malcomb played guitar, and even did turkey calls. Buddy sang, while Marvin played the fiddle.

            The Currence Brothers began spreading the gospel by playing their music at church functions. They traveled the country, usually in their van, to play in concerts and on radio or television. The band even recorded on their own, or with notable musicians, producing several albums in a genre they called Gospel Grass, along with a mixture of popular tunes. They collaborated with musicians including Larry Groce, who they met at a talent show at the firehouse in Parsons, West Virginia; Woody Simmons, who lived in Randolph County; Clyde See; and “Country” Charlie Jordan.

            You can find Currence Brothers music on old vinyl records and in a few YouTube videos. Check out the following albums:

   • The Currence Family, Precious Memories (Lark Records, n.d.)

   • Larry Groce and the Currence Brothers (Peaceable Records, 1975)

   • Larry Groce, Junkfood Junkie (Warner Bros. Records, 1976)

   • The Currence Brothers, He’s Coming Back to Earth Again (Major Recording Studios, n.d.)

   • The Currence Brothers Sing and Play Gospel Grass (Major Recording Studios, n.d.)

   • The Currence Brothers, Ballads and Instrumentals (Major Recording Studios, 1978)

   • The Currence Brothers, Muddy Boggy Banjo Man (Major Recording Studios, 1979)

   • Woody Simmons, All Smiles Tonight (Elderberry Records, 1979)

   • The Currence Brothers, That’s the Man I’m Looking For (Augusta Records, 1981)

   • Clyde See with the Currence Brothers (Augusta Records, 1983)

            The Currence Brothers are known for their talent on the banjo and fiddle, not for having band members with hemophilia. Their hemophilia did not define them, and it never prevented them from making music. Of course, some accommodations were made—switching instruments due to elbow bleeds; not playing at some events or traveling as much as they wanted—but not at the expense of their artistry and passion. Today, other family members continue the Currence musical tradition.

To learn more, read profiles of the Currence Brothers and other West Virginia musicians in Mountains of Music (University of Illinois Press, 1999), edited by John Lilly.

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