"Miracle Man" doctor investigated for using substance previously linked to Lance Armstrong's USPS team
US and Canadian authorities investigate doctor who treated Tiger Woods
A doctor whose client list includes embattled golfer Tiger Woods and former Olympic 100m champion Donovan Bailey has been placed under criminal investigation in Canada and the United States for providing athletes with performance-enhancing drugs, according to The New York Times.
While it is often cycling that gets dragged into the headlines because of doping scandals, no bike riders are named by the newspaper as being on Dr Anthony Galea’s client list, who besides Bailey and Woods include a number of NFL players and Olympic swimmer Dara Torres.
However, one of the substances involved, Actovegin, was linked to Lance Armstrong's US Postal Services team during the 2000 edition of the Tour de France.
According to the newspaper, Dr Galea, a Canadian national, has been given the nickname “Miracle Man” by some of the athletes he treats as a result of the innovative techniques he employs that enable them to recover more quickly following surgery, or avoid going under the knife altogether.
Dr Galea was arrested in Toronto by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on October 15, following the discovery the previous month of substances including human growth hormone and Actovegin, which is extracted from calf’s blood, in his doctor’s bag at the US-Canada border. The bag was in a car being driven by his assistant, who is now helping the authorities.
The doctor has claimed that the human growth hormone was for his own personal use, and while he has used it on patients in the past, he has never administered it to a professional athlete but he is due to appear in court this Friday on charges of smuggling, advertising and selling unapproved drugs and criminal conspiracy, and is also being investigated by the FBI, partly as a result of records relating to athletes found on a laptop that was also seized.
Human growth hormone, banned in Canada and permitted in the United States for certain specific uses that do not include recovery from injury or surgery, is banned by WADA but is not often tested for since it needs a blood test to detect it.
Actovegin is banned in the United States, but is not currently on the World Anti Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of prohibited substances, although it is being monitored closely.
Its use by professional athletes first came to prominence just over a decade ago, and the substance was at the centre of allegations surrounding Lance Armstrong’s US Postal Team during the Tour de France in 2000, at a time when the substance was banned by the UCI.
US Postal Services team manager Mark Gorski admitted then that the team had brought Actovegin into France with the approval of local authorities, but it had not been administered to any of the team’s riders. In a statement, he said: “"Since the preposterous rumor continues to fester in the international press, I want to clearly state that none of the nine riders representing the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team at the 2000 Tour de France used Actovegin.
“Prior to the start of the 2000 Tour, Actovegin was brought into France by our team physician with the full authorization of the Agence Française de Securité Sanitaire des Produits de Santé, the French medical control agency. Actovegin was available to be used to treat severe skin abrasions due to crashes and to aid one of our staff members who has diabetes.”
The links of the substance to the USPS team came to light after an anonymous letter was sent to the Paris prosecutor’s office claiming that suspicious behaviour had been observed during the Tour, including a TV crew seeing two people dumping rubbish bags that turned out to contain drugs packaging and substances including Actovigein. The media attention generated almost caused Armstrong to decide not to defend the Tour de France title he had won in 1999 and 2000 in 2001.
Dr Galea and his lawyer claim that the treatments he administers do not infringe any laws or anti-doping regulations. Brian H Greenspan, his criminal defence lawyer, told The New York Times: ““We’re confident that an investigation of Dr. Galea will lead to his total vindication. Dr. Galea was never engaged in any wrongdoing or any impropriety. Not only does he have a reputation that is impeccable, he is a person at the very top of his profession.”
The doctor began working with Woods earlier this year when the golfer’s agents, International Management Group (IMG) were concerned about the length of time it was taking him to recover from knee surgery performed in June 2008. Dr Galea says he treated Woods at his Florida home on several occasions using a blood-spinning technique to increase platelet count before injecting the blood back into the athlete’s knee.
Woods recovered sufficiently to take part in this year’s British Open, but his knee started giving him trouble again, resulting in further treatment. That ceased with the onset of Dr Galea’s current legal problems, while more recently, of course, Woods has had highly-publicised issues of his own to deal with.