Doctor in drug case known for unorthodox methods
Associated Press Writer
TORONTO (AP) – He’s treated big-name athletes, Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez among them.
He acknowledges taking human growth hormone, and to prescribing the substance for patients over 40, though he insists he’s never given it to athletes.
Dr. Anthony Galea is the 51-year-old physician at the center of drug investigations in Canada and the U.S. that have sent American federal agents trooping down to spring training to question ball players and have put him under suspicion. Rodriguez is scheduled to talk Friday to investigators in Buffalo, N.Y., about his treatment from Galea last year, which the doctor says consisted of prescribing anti-inflammatories after the Yankees slugger underwent hip surgery.
Even allies see Galea as unorthodox, yet the doctor insists he will be vindicated once Rodriguez and other athletes speak to authorities.
“Watch what happens when their statements come out. You’ll find out,” Galea said during a recent interview with The Associated Press at his clinic in Toronto. “When they get subpoenaed they are going to have to tell the truth.”
This is how Galea became such a high-profile figure, and how his colleagues view him now.
Galea came under scrutiny last fall when his assistant, Mary Anne Catalano, was stopped at the U.S.-Canadian border in Buffalo with HGH and an unapproved drug called Actovegin. Galea said the HGH was a minuscule amount for himself.
Soon after, Galea’s Toronto clinic, the Institute of Sports Medicine Health and Wellness Centre, was raided and he was charged with four counts, including one related to the smuggling of HGH into the U.S. But the charges are primarily focused on Actovegin, a controversial drug used in another healing technique.
U.S. federal court documents in Catalano’s case say “20 vials and 76 ampoules of unknown misbranded drugs including Nutropin (Human Growth Hormone -HGH) and foreign homeopathic drugs” were found in a car she was driving, which is registered to Galea.
The doctor counters that Catalano only could have had a tiny, half-empty bottle or one ampoule of HGH because she was bringing the drug across the border for his own use. When the AP visited Galea’s clinic, he took the reporter to the pharmacy attached to his clinic where he had the pharmacist give him what he said was such a bottle – it was smaller than a pinkie finger.
“If you read what the press said in the States about me it was ‘Oh he got caught with ampoules.’ It was that much. It was one half bottle used with the top off,” Galea said. “If you’re going to give it to an elite athlete they would need a minimum of three bottles of this a week for six months.”
Calvin Barry, Catalano’s lawyer, said she is fully cooperating with investigators. Barry and others have described Catalano as integral to Galea’s practice, serving as his executive assistant – though she quit after being arrested. Barry declined to say whether or not she told authorities that Galea provided HGH or any other performance enhancing drug to athletes.
U.S. court documents say Catalano admitted that she knew the items she was bringing into the U.S. were illegal and that she was doing it for her employer. She claimed that, if questioned about the purpose of her trip, she was instructed to say that she and Galea were attending a medical conference and that none of items they were bringing in were for treating patients, the documents say. Galea said “it’s good” that Catalano is cooperating.
A father of seven who is married to a woman 22 years his junior, Galea earned his medical degree at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1986, and has been involved in sports medicine for over 20 years.
Kathryn Clarke, a spokeswoman for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, said Galea has been registered as a doctor since 1987 and has not been involved in any disciplinary hearings resulting in a finding of misconduct or any impropriety.
Galea is described as a “leading advocate of drug free sport” on Olympic gold medalist Donovan Bailey’s Tranz4M personal fitness company Web site, where Galea is listed as a medical consultant. Galea was a doctor for Canadian sprinters at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, where he helped Bailey, the 1996 Atlanta Olympic gold medalist and former 100 meter world-record holder, recover from an Achilles injury.
The bio on Bailey’s Web site also lists Galea as being a doping control officer at a track meet in Hamilton and as a doctor at other track and field events, as well as for freestyle skiing championships and the Canadian Open women’s tennis tournament.
Galea was the team doctor for the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts from 2003 until this past February, when he resigned.
As his career has developed, Galea has earned a reputation for unorthodox therapies – including shock wave therapy for overuse injuries – that supporters regard as innovative and skeptics see as dubious.
Among them is a technique called platelet-rich plasma therapy, whereby a patient’s blood is drawn, run through a centrifuge and injected back into the area of an injury, the idea being that the high concentration of platelets will promote new tissue growth and healing.
Galea has become known among elite athletes for the treatment, which only became widely available in the U.S in recent years. “I’ve been spinning blood for seven, eight years,” Galea said. “They just started a year ago.”
Galea has acknowledged treating Woods at his Florida home with platelet-rich plasma therapy to speed his recovery from knee surgery. That could potentially cause problems for the doctor if he was practicing there without a license. There is no record of Galea being licensed to practice medicine in any U.S. state, according to a database kept by the Federation of State Medical Boards.
As for the charges against him in Canada, Galea will have a hearing in Toronto on Thursday, though neither he nor his lawyer is expected to attend what his lawyer says is an administrative date.
Much of the case against him has to do with Actovegin, which is extracted from calf’s blood and used for healing, but is not approved for sale in Canada because it hasn’t been tested. Canadian doctors can prescribe it if they inform patients about what it is and the risks involved. It is not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman Sgt. Mark LaPorte said Galea is accused of administering Actovegin without telling his patients what it was or misleading them in some way.
WADA Science Director Dr. Olivier Rabin said the drug was tested by anti-doping laboratories and no growth hormone or prohibited hormones were found. He said WADA closely monitors Actovegin, since authorities are aware of its use in some sports like cycling, possibly in conjunction with other substances like EPO that are prohibited.
“There is nothing that tells you that it could be used alone as a performance enchancer,” Rabin said.
HGH, meanwhile, is banned by WADA and while Galea says he has never treated an athlete with it, he believes it has benefits – which is why he takes it himself.
The doctor writes in his book “Dr. Galea’s Secrets to Optimal Health” that HGH could be the one hormone that may actually reverse the aging process. The youthful-looking Galea writes that he has an extremely busy practice and travels extensively for his job. He says he’s passionate about cycling, skiing, snowboarding and wants to be able to participate in those activities for years to come – enjoying a full, active and balanced life well into his senior years.
One colleague says Galea is always on the move, and he has never seen the doctor sit still for more than 30 seconds at a time.
While authorities in two countries build their cases against Galea, opinion on him among colleagues and associates is divided.
John Paul Catanzaro, a former patient of Galea’s and a personal trainer in Toronto, said he continues to send his clients to Galea despite the charges. Galea performed platelet-rich plasma therapy on Catanzaro’s arm. “I’m a big fan of Tony’s. I’ve seen his work firsthand and I think all of this is unfair. Someone has a bee in their bonnet for him,” Catanzaro said. “He is definitely a healer.”
Catanzaro also said he’s never known Galea to prescribe HGH to an athlete – though he could see Galea prescribing it if it meant an athlete could come back from an injury sooner.
“If the situation warrants I’m sure he would prescribe it in that situation,” said Catanzaro, who describes Galea’s intent as pure and not malicious.
“They are making him out to be some type of performance enhancing doctor with a separate agenda. He’s not that at all,” he said.
However Dr. Lewis Maharam, past president of the American College of Sports Medicine, is skeptical that Galea is clean. Maharam said it’s “incredibly fishy” that elite athletes with money would go to Canada for treatment or have a doctor without a license in the U.S. visit and treat them.
“Are they really going for the platelet-rich plasma therapy there and is this smoke?” Maharam said. “No doctor I know breaks the law intentionally and he had intention to break the law with his secretary. That tells you right there that we’re not dealing with a full deck. It’s also inappropriate to be treating yourself and, second, why are all these guys showing up there?”
Dr. Michael McKee, an orthopedic surgeon who has performed surgery on some of Galea’s patients at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said Galea is widely respected and tries different and new things to get athletes back on the field.
“He’s a very innovative person in that regard, always trying to get elite athletes back as quickly as possible with the latest technology or techniques available. He’s very much at the forefront there,” McKee said.
McKee said he knew Galea would see NFL players on an individual basis during the offseason, but said he was always discreet and never bragged about who his patients were. He also insisted the doctor is not someone who has or would push performance-enhancing drugs on athletes.
“I would adamantly say that’s he’s not that type of person,” McKee said. “He’s a very well-respected physician in the Toronto area.”
Dr. Howard Winston, a sports medicine physician who has known Galea for 15 years, said it doesn’t look good that he allegedly tried to smuggle drugs across the border without a medical license, but Winston doesn’t believe Galea who would provide performance-enhancing drugs to athletes.
“He’s a good guy, Tony,” Winston said. “He did things, I guess, the wrong way, but he’s a good guy and a good physician. He’s very knowledgeable and he really tries hard to help his patients.”
Galea himself says he’s certain he’ll be cleared in the end.
“If you ask any one of these patients on these tables did I fix their injuries, ask them, they’ll tell you. And it wasn’t by that,” Galea said at his clinic, referring to HGH.
“I’m a Christian and I have a strong faith and I believe the truth will come out. Now I’m going to get beat up for the next several months, a year and then once it goes to court the truth has to come out. It cannot not come out. It has to come out.”
Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.