CNN features story about a teen with a severe brain injury whose parents self-treated him with high doses of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.
Grant Virgin, 16, was struck by a hit-and-run driver and sustained a torn aorta, a traumatic brain injury — including skull fractures and bleeding throughout his brain — compound bone fractures and spinal fractures. The doctors gave him slim chance for survival but did all they could.
From that moment forward — time and time again — they would go against doctor’s orders. That included trying unconventional, untested therapies — anything that might help Grant. One in particular involved giving him high doses of omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oil).
Fish oil is what the Virgin family believes ultimately — dramatically — altered his life course, and healed his brain.
Weeks before fish oil was even considered, Grant Virgin underwent multiple surgeries, and spent considerable time on a ventilator.
Eventually, his body was stable, but his brain was still riddled with damage. He was in a coma, and his doctors urged his family to “wait and see” while his brain healed.
They took “advice” from non-professionals which seems like a very irresponsible action. Not only that, but they “snuck” in treatment without telling the physicians! Typically, people think that administering their own complementary treatments will not cause harm and may only help. That’s not necessarily true. However, fish oil, does have known healing properties of reducing inflammation. Doctors have a responsibility to be cautious, not run headlong into trying “anything” that might work. Grant’s family did consult an expert, Dr. Barry Sears, who had consulted on the first-ever case of high-dose fish oil for traumatic brain injury in 2006 on injured miner Randal McCloy who recovered.
The speculation is that a chemical in the fatty acids help the brain rebuild from destruction.
But fish oil as a viable and well-studied intervention is still a ways off; for now it dwells in the realm of the anecdote or case study.
There are other cases of success and other cases of failure. I do not think it is wise of CNN (Dr. Sanjay Gupta) to hype a story like this where people will only focus on the apparent success of taking medical treatment into their own hands. There is a good chance, as with “medical breakthrough” news, that people fail to understand the complexities and think it’s overly simple to self-treat.
But the omega-3 fatty acids idea is worth exploring. This seemed like a very good opportunity for a case study that would provide a basis for further research. There is no way to tell right now what role it played in Grant’s recovery. It could be that the trauma treatment was impeccable, that he was young and was able to respond better to treatment or that it was entirely a fortunate situation all around that allowed him to survive and be on the road to recovery. But there is a glaring error in thinking glossed over in this piece:
The Virgin family says that progress would not be happening if they had merely accepted what conventional medicine told them.
THEY CAN’T KNOW THAT. And to make a statement as fact is potentially harmful to others who think that rejection of conventional medicine is the answer. This piece was annoying and deserved to be written within a more responsible frame. In essence it encouraged people to brush off their medical professionals and take advice from nonprofessionals. That’s dumb. They took an interesting story and made it something it shouldn’t be.