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The fighter: Former BYU, NFL quarterback Jim McMahon aims to win the toughest challenge of his life

Published: Saturday, Oct. 5 2013 5:35 p.m. MDT

"I don't regret playing," he said. "I regret maybe playing injured. In 1986, I never should have ever played after the first game; my shoulder was gone. My doctor kept telling me there was nothing wrong with it. We'd just won the Super Bowl and I'm trying to win two in a row, which hadn't been done in a while. So I just kept trying to play, believing that these doctors knew what the (expletive) they were talking about.

"Obviously, they were team doctors, and I had a torn labrum. I had no labrum at all; it wasn't just torn — it was gone, nothing there. (The doctor) kept telling me there was nothing wrong with it. One day I'd feel OK and I'd practice; the next day I couldn't even move my arm. The guys on the team were like, 'Hey, what's going on?' and I kept trying to explain it to 'em.

"And finally, after 10 weeks of trying to play, I went and saw Dr. Frank Job in our bye week. He told me in five minutes what the problem was," McMahon recalled. "He told me, 'Your arm's coming out of the socket because you have no labrum.' And I said I've been telling these (expletive) idiots that for 10 weeks. The team doctor actually flew out and watched my surgery, and as soon as they opened me up he went, 'Holy (expletive)!'

"I don't know if the team was saying, 'Hey, just tell him he's OK' or what. I mean, that happens all the time. Now these teams are going away from team doctors."

The pain of head injuries

But that was nothing compared to the ailments he's been dealing with the past couple of years. After all, it's one thing to go in and surgically repair a torn-up shoulder. There is no such surgery, however, for a scrambled brain.

"Until I finally realized what was going on, I couldn't remember anything," McMahon said. "I couldn't remember sitting here talking to you five minutes from now. The pressure in my head was so bad, I mean, I think everything just came and went. I didn't concentrate. I couldn't concentrate on anything.

"The doctor said the only way that you can screw up C1 and C2 (vertebrae) was if you get dumped straight on your head, the top of your head. And I said, 'Well, I can show you the film. That was 20-something years ago.' And he said, 'Well, you've been messed up since then.' The only one I remember was when Charlie Martin hit me from behind and dumped me. That was probably the start of it.

"He said, 'I don't think this is gonna last, because it's been outa whack for 20-something years," said McMahon, who pointed out that Drs. Rosa and Damadian read an article about the former quarterback's health issues and reached out to him about possible treatment to deal with it.

He and Navon are so glad they did.

"You were actually able to see on his MRI scans that his brain and his skull were pushing together because there was so much fluid in his head that it was pushing back, pushing his skull and his brain were pushing together against the back of his head," she said.

"It's incredible. When all that fluid backs up into your head, all those proteins are not good. There are a lot of bad proteins and those bad proteins attack certain areas of your brain, which can cause the dementia, Alzheimer's, (Lou Gehrig's disease) and multiple sclerosis.

"Not that they can cure dementia, Alzheimer's, ALS, MS or any of that, but they can relieve the symptoms that all these men and women are having due to those diseases," Navon said hopefully.

"They've been doing research for the last seven years on this, this very thing — multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, all these brain-related diseases are being caused by something in the spinal column," McMahon said, "and they've figured this out."

Making things better

Navon said Mac's predicament, and his willingness to openly discuss it, is something she hopes will encourage other athletes with similar issues to seek help.

"You look at these guys, and they're so independent and they're so strong, and they don't want to admit that they have an ache or a pain," she said.

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