Sports concussions, ADHD and strokes treated with same new brain tests

Dr. Anthony Lemmo is a chiropractor in Windsor, Ont. who is using an alternative treatment to brain trauma, that's also been an effective therapy to his ADHD and stroke patients.

Windsor chiroprator Anthony Lemmo is treating brain injuries using non-invasive methods

Jordan Fry and his mother Heather Fry are all smiles now, but Jordan's ADHD was so intense that it prevented him from having a normal childhood. (Kaitie Fraser/CBC)

Windsor, Ont. chiropractor Anthony Lemmo had been working with the Windsor Spitfires for about 10 years, when he decided he wanted to be able to treat hockey players' concussions better.

"While I was there, there were several concussions and head traumas — I just wanted to know if there was something else out there to help some of the players because there was only so much out there at the time."

Dr. Lemmo had heard that Pittsburg Penguins captain Sidney Crosby had seen Canadian Ted Carrick, a chiropractic neurology specialist who treated Crosby in 2012 for his concussions. Lemmo was immediately drawn to the new method for treating brain trauma, and became a certified functional neurologist through the Carrick Institute for Graduate Studies and the American College of Functional Neurology.

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby talks about his recovery from a concussion he suffered in January 2011, as Dr. Ted Carrick looks on. (Associated Press)

But Lemmo soon found out he could treat much more than just trauma — seeing stroke, dementia, and even ADHD patients.

"Once I was in the program I realized concussion is a very minute piece of the big puzzle, which is brain rehabilitation," he said. 

Eyes are the window to the brain

At his clinic, Lemmo figures out what it is his patients want to achieve and uses diagnostic tests to track eye movement to determine the parts of the brain that need work.

The eyes tell it all when it comes to brain function. These eye function tests are part of the diagnostic process in Lemmo's treatment. (Kaitie Fraser/CBC)

"Depending on the speed, the trajectories, the starts the stops, vertical horizontal, rotation — all these eye movements are well-studied and mapped in the brain," he said. "We look for a weakness or a super strength or a hyper activity in those areas [of the brain]."

Patients wear a heavy goggle-like device on their heads and sit in a small room, while technician Diva Santoilli walks them through the steps. They track a red dot — which looks like a laser point on the wall — while she watches their eyes. 

Through further consultation, Lemmo works to figure out what pathways in the brain he can stimulate to get his patients results. 

'Like a miracle'

"At first I was definitely a little bit sceptical, I wasn't sure," said Heather Fry, whose son Jordon saw Lemmo two years ago. 

Jordan was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and his doctor had recommended he go on medication, which Heather did not want. 

Dr. Anthony Lemmo is a Windsor, Ont. chiropractor who is practising 'functional neurology' as a treatment for brain trauma, like concussions. But his therapy has been helpful to treat other disorders, too. (Kaitie Fraser/CBC)

"He was hard to control... We never got invited to birthday parties," said Heather. "It was hurtful because I wanted him to be part of that and I knew that he could be."

Jordan saw Lemmo for a few weeks over the summer school break, and did a lot of prescribed work at home. His family saw dramatic results right away, but Heather was still unsure. 

Although Dr. Lemmo said Jordan doesn't need to come back, Heather brings him in every year for a check up. Here Jordan wears the special goggles which map eye movement. (Kaitie Fraser/CBC)

She didn't tell his teacher about the treatment Jordan was doing, and wanted to see if she noticed the change in her student.

"She called me and said 'I'm not understanding, he has ADHD? There's no way your child has ADHD.' Literally the words that came out of her mouth," said Heather. "I just breathed. My point of view as a mom, it was seriously like a miracle."

Two years later, Jordan is playing sports and music and also has a tonne of friends. 

You'd never know that two years ago, Jordan Fry would have been unable to participate in regular classroom activities, let alone sit still for an interview. (Kaitie Fraser/CBC)

"My one friend he comes over almost every weekend," the 11-year-old was happy to report, patiently sitting by his mother's side for an interview. 

"I started spreading the word because it's just something every parent should know," said Heather.

Non-surgical, no pills

What drew Heather to the treatment was the fact that Jordan would not be taking any medications.

"There's not a pill for neuroplasticity, it's very specific," said Lemmo. 

Since he is treating specific areas of the brain, medicine doesn't work, he said. Instead what his patients do is very different— on a tablet device, Lemmo's patients do tests, which look very much like games, that he programs specifically for how he wants to stimulate the brain. 

"A lot of the therapies we prescribe they have to go home and do these," said Lemmo, explaining that they can be tedious and repetitive. 

Then, his patients come back for more diagnostics. 

"If we don't see a change then I know that pathway might not work, so we'll try something else."

'Wild west' of treatments

The therapy that Lemmo is providing has been criticized, but mostly because there is not a lot of research evidence that shows that it works. 

"There's not really a body of research for that, It's a bit of the wild west," said Dr. Anne Mclachlan, a neuropsychologist at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. "It's not something discussed at brain injury conferences."

For Lemmo, he takes his cues from his patients. 

"There's only one thing that I care about and that's results and if I'm getting them over and over that's all that I care about," he said. "When you're doing something that's so different you're going to hear skepticism."

Dr. Lemmo explains that it can be hard to target the specific area of the brain he wants to strengthen. His consultation process can take more than two hours. (Kaitie Fraser/CBC)

Treatments not covered

Another issue for many interested in Lemmo's therapy is the cost. An initial appointment, which includes a full diagnostic assessment and consultation with Lemmo, costs nearly $600. Follow up appointments cost about $200.

He hopes in the future his treatments will be covered by the government, as the therapy becomes more mainstream.

"It doesn't matter how much money it would cost me I would do this again tomorrow to get these results," said Heather. "I wanted to help him however I could."

"I believe this is essential, what we do," said Lemmo. "And our patients would appreciate it too."

About the Author

Kaitie Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Kaitie Fraser is a reporter at CBC Windsor. Email Kaitie.Fraser@cbc.ca