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A Hero on the Field, a Surprise Hero Off It

Sep 09, 2014

By Dean George

When George first consulted the New York City doctors at French Hospital in 1946 about the discomfort in his famous face, his symptoms were fairly obvious: the left side of his face was swollen, his left eye was completely sealed shut and he had difficulty swallowing.

After exploring the facial swelling and the cause of the pain in his left retro-orbital region, doctors diagnosed it as infected teeth and sinusitis. They recommended extracting three teeth and ongoing antibiotic treatments.

George Herman Ruth, Jr.

George dutifully had the suggested tooth extractions performed and underwent penicillin treatment, but the initial treatments only provided minimal relief. Strike one.

Two months later he was back and on further inspection of his symptoms he was diagnosed with Horner Syndrome. Horner Syndrome is a relatively rare eye disorder affecting the pupil, eyelid, and eyeball depression into the orbital region that protects the eye.

Subsequent treatment failed to improve the star celebrity’s worsening symptoms, however, and his health and voice continued to deteriorate. Strike two.

More hospital tests and more consultations were held and the patient’s well known fondness for consuming alcohol, smokeless tobacco and frequent cigars were considered in exploring his medical condition.  His once booming voice had grown raspy and harsh.

The man had entertained hundreds of thousands of people bridging a historic time between the beginning of World War I up through the dark days of The Great Depression. His on the field exploits were legendary, and the 1927 team he anchored was considered the greatest in his sport’s history.

During one extended hospital stay, a radiograph showed a large mass growing at the base of his skull. It has to be, the doctors surmised. Of course! All those years of using smokeless tobacco at work during the day and smoking cigars and drinking alcohol at night had taken their toll.  

George has laryngeal carcinoma, better known as throat cancer, the doctors determined. Strike three.

Unfortunately for the man with three first names, while his doctors kept swinging and missing, the rare disease invading his once powerful body was pitching him further and further away from good health.  

The doctors were right that George had cancer, but were wrong about the type that he had. Thanks to the work of a group of California doctors in 1999 and the 2008 research of a New York dentist, we know now that the early 20th century baseball icon died of nasopharyngeal cancer, not throat cancer.

Nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) is a rare type of head and neck cancer that starts behind the nose in the upper part of the throat. Only about seven in one million people get this type of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

New York dentist William J. Maloney and Dr. Mea A. Weinberg, DMD co-authored an article in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) detailing how both the celebrity athlete and a medical science pioneer joined forces nearly seven decades ago to find a cure for cancer.

According to Maloney’s research, in 1947 a New York oncologist named Richard Lewisohn offered George the chance to participate in an experimental treatment, despite the objections of many in the medical community. Many doctors opposed the treatment because it had never been tried on a human being.

A German physician who immigrated to the U.S. in 1906, Lewisohn was already well known for his pioneering work on blood transfusions. Today he is credited with saving over 1 billion lives as the founding father of blood banks.

The injections administered by Lewisohn did lead to a short term remission of George’s cancer, enough so that his improved condition was reported as the lead story in the Wall Street Journal September 11, 1947. Sadly, his remission was short-lived and George died a year later on August 16, 1948 at the age of 53. More than 100,000 people paid their respects at the house that George built between August 17-18.

Did I mention that once he began playing professional baseball at the age of 19, George rarely went by his given name? His nickname was given to him by his Baltimore Orioles teammates. George Herman Ruth Jr., is better known as "Babe.”

Thanks to Dr. Maloney, we now know that Babe Ruth was a hero both on and off the field of baseball.

As we’ve previously reported in both Agent Straight-Talk and Dental Wire, dentists often play a key role in recognizing early warning signs of oral cancer and diseases like NPC. That’s why it’s important to keep those routine six-month dental visits and share with your dentist any oral discomfort you may be experiencing between visits.

Many dentists provide oral cancer screenings as part of a regular exam, and we provide a convenient means of paying for those exams. See for yourself by clicking here. Thanks for reading, and join us anytime for a run around the bases by following us on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestGoogle+, and LinkedIn

Sources:,,, WebMD, com,,
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Copyright 2014, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC  

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