Dr. Purita in The Sun-Sentinel

Boca doctor’s cutting-edge treatments for athletes getting international attention

By Hal Habib
July 21, 2011

 

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BOCA RATON—

 

Across the street from Florida Atlantic University, next to a gas station on Glades Road, is a medical complex that’s easy to miss.

 

Deep within Suite 460, wearing medical scrubs and dictating reports, sits Dr. Joseph Purita, a 61-year-old native of Long Island who until recently figured his lifelong support of the New York Yankees would be restricted to cheering them on when things turned serious in October.

 

That was before Purita, an orthopedic physician, apparently resurrected the career of a washed-up pitcher by using stem cell therapy, a procedure still seeking acceptance in the worlds of medicine and sports.

 

Right-hander Bartolo Colon hadn’t been effective since 2005 and missed last season with injuries. Now, he’s consistently hitting 93 mph, is 6-5 and has a 3.47 ERA – all at age 38.

 

“I don’t know if the sports world knows what to make of it at this point,” Purita said. “This kind of hit them between the eyes.”

 

Curiosity, if not scrutiny, is further piqued because Purita admits to administering human growth hormone. He insists he uses only tiny doses of HGH to promote healing in everyday patients and never on professional or amateur athletes because it’s banned as a performance-enhancing substance.

 

Even for non-athletes, the use of HGH is regulated so tightly that Purita said he paid lawyers $8,000 to make sure he was on the lawful side of “a cloudy issue.”

 

Purita also practices a separate, older form of regenerative medicine called platelet-rich plasma therapy, or PRP.

 

“Both of them are still being proven out,” said Dr. Lee D. Kaplan, medical director for the Florida Marlins and chief of sports medicine at the University of Miami.

 

Those who reportedly have tried PRP include Tiger Woods, baseball’s Carlos Beltran, Cliff Lee and Jose Reyes, tennis’ Rafael Nadal and basketball’s Joakim Noah, a former Florida Gator.

 

And last month came reports that the L.A. Lakers’ Kobe Bryant went to Germany for PRP treatment on his right knee.

 

Purita said he believes Bryant actually took it a step further, undergoing a little-known process called Orthokine, which involves drawing blood, incubating it for approximately 24 hours, then injecting it into an injured area.

 

“Does it make sense to you that a guy’s going to fly 8,000 miles to Germany to get a PRP when, let’s face it, there’s probably thousands of guys in the United States that are doing PRPs?” Purita said.

 

Purita said he spent two hours with Colon for the stem cell therapy, which involves drawing blood, separating it and injecting the concentrated cells into the affected area.

 

The procedure was performed in the Dominican Republic simply because Colon lives there, said Purita, who added that he was asked to oversee the treatment of Colon’s right shoulder and elbow because the player’s doctor is a cardiologist.

 

Once the treatment became public, Major League Baseball opened an inquiry, dispatching a lawyer to Boca Raton, where Purita was interviewed for about an hour.

 

MLB did not respond to The Post’s inquiry on the status of the investigation.

 

The attention on Colon and Purita concerns Travis Tygart, CEO of the Colorado-based U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which drug-tests American Olympians and in similar instances has fielded inquiries from athletes regarding what’s permitted.

 

“We have not seen a spike in those requests, but we’re certainly mindful of that and to a certain extent fearful of it, of starting to go down that path,” Tygart said.

 

In general, Olympians cannot use stem cell therapy but can use PRP, although Tygart said whenever he hears of a physician, such as Purita, dispensing HGH for any reason, “It raises a whole lot of red flags.”

 

Amid changing times, Purita contends “the syringe in this case is mightier than the scalpel.” He’s convinced that eventually, people will say knee and hip replacements were a “barbaric” alternative to stem cell therapy. The procedure, he said, will help a patient “basically grow his entire joint” over again.

 

Insurance rarely covers the procedures, for which Purita charges $600 (PRP) and $4,800 (stem cell therapy). USA Today cited examples of doctors charging $50,000 for stem cell therapy.

 

“Thirty years ago, a lot of the old guys in orthopedics and sports medicine said, ‘Oh, this arthroscopy stuff is a phase. This is not going to last.’ ” Purita said. “Well, guess what? It’s lasted. This is going to be the next big thing. It’s just like we have black and white TV and then color TV and now we’ve got 3D TV.”

 

Not so fast, said UCLA’s Gary Green, medical director for Major League Baseball.

 

“It’s a case where the hype is ahead of the science,” Green told USA Today.

 

“There are no shortcuts to healing,” Kaplan added.

 

Therapy can jump-start regrowth, but will the repaired joint be more susceptible to injury? Will growth stay localized?

 

“You don’t want to necessarily cause the heart to grow or something else,” such as tumors, Kaplan said.

 

“We’ll probably have a lot more early results over the next two years, but it could take five to 10 to really focus on where these therapies are optimally used.”

 

Purita, who graduated from Georgetown University’s medical school, is not a team physician for the Dolphins but said he has treated active and retired Dolphins, mostly with PRP. He’s not permitted to name them and won’t say how many were involved.

 

“I had one guy that just recently retired from the NFL,” Purita said. “I said, ‘Hey, I can give you a small amount of HGH now because you’re retired, but if you go back and play, I’m notifying the league the day you go back because that’s a violation of the rules.’ He said, ‘No, I’m done. After 14 years, that’s it. I’m shot.’ So I said, ‘Fine.’ ”

 

Purita’s medical record is free of sanctions, but he received unwanted publicity recently when it was learned he was to speak at a September symposium on PRP in Toronto. The moderator: Toronto physician Anthony Galea, who pleaded guilty July 6 to bringing misbranded and unapproved drugs including HGH into the United States to treat pro athletes.

 

Amid criticism, organizers dropped Galea from the program. Purita still plans to speak.

 

Purita, who considers himself an “ambassador” for regenerative medicine, said he can’t be certain that his treatment cured Colon, although he noted that all signs point to it since surgery, rest and physical therapy had failed.

 

“I can’t definitively say, 100 percent, I did,” Purita said. “We did the procedure on him and then within a couple of months, he’s getting back to his old form.

 

“Something happened here.”