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Mickey Mantle: Tough Childhood Can Cause Disease

In 1995, the legendary professional athlete Mickey Mantle died at age 63 of liver cancer. Throughout his spectacular athletic career, he drank and caroused heavily, arguably the results of a childhood that could have been scripted by Charles Dickens.

CHILDHOOD: His father was a miner and the family was very poor. They lived on top of a toxic waste dump of lead and zinc mining debris. He suffered from bed wetting and dyslexia. As a child, he was repeatedly sexually abused by a half sister and by neighborhood boys. In high school, he was seduced by one of his teachers.

Before he was old enough to go to school, his father and uncle overwhelmed the boy with the fundamentals of baseball. At age 13, he was playing baseball 12 to 14 hours a day. Whenever he would complain about the pressure, his father told him that he could always go back to the mines.

FAMILY HISTORY: His father died of Hodgkin’s lymph node cancer and a heart attack at age 39. His grandfather and two uncles died at a very young age also. One of his sons died at age 36. At the time of his death at age 63, he was separated from his wife of 43 years.

HE EXPECTED TO DIE PREMATURELY: When he was one of the most famous athletes in the world, he told a reporter, “I’ll never get a pension. I won’t live long enough.” He stole a line from centenarian pianist, Eubie Blake: “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”

DESTROYED HIS LIVER: Alcohol damaged his liver, and carousing probably caused the infection with hepatitis C that destroyed his liver. One year before his death, he was admitted to the Betty Ford Center in California for a one-month program to rehabilitate him from alcohol abuse. He never drank again. After his discharge, he was diagnosed with liver cancer which can be caused by both excessive alcohol and hepatitis C. He received a liver transplant, but the cancer had already spread to his lungs and he died at age 63 on August 14, 1995.

Just before he died, this gifted athlete apologized for drinking and said that he was no role model for America’s youth. “Don’t be like me,” Childhood poverty, alcoholism and sexual promiscuity had taken their toll.

HEPATITIS C, LIVER CANCER, & LIVER TRANSPLANTS: Hepatitis C can be cured by taking interferon injections and Ribavirin pills. He was not given this combination. He was supposed to wait in line among the many people waiting for a liver transplant. It usually takes a year or more to get a liver, but he was so famous that somehow a new liver was found for him, before other people who probably would have had a much greater chance to have lived. People with hepatitis C are not supposed to be given liver transplants because a person’s immunity prevents a person from accepting someone else’s liver. To keep his body from rejecting the transplanted liver, he took drugs to suppress his immunity. The drugs that he took to prevent his immunity from killing the transplanted liver also prevented his immunity from killing the hepatitis C virus, allowing both the hepatitis C virus and the liver cancer to spread through his body.

Mickey Mantle traveled from poverty in Oklahoma to become the superstar center fielder of the New York Yankees of the 1950s and 1960s. He was voted the American League’s most valuable player three times — in 1956, 1957 and 1962 — and finished his career with 536 regular season home runs. Between 1954 and 1961, he led the American League four times in home runs, six times in runs, and once in RBIs.

HE PLAYED MOST OF HIS CAREER ON ONE LEG: He had his legs heavily taped because of injuries to his ankles and knees. In Game Two of the 1951 World Series, as a New York Yankees rookie outfielder, he suffered an injury that would hinder him the rest of his life. He chased a fly ball to right center field. At the last moment, Joe DiMaggio called for the ball, and Mantle tried to stop. His spike caught on a drainage ditch, and he collapsed. He had broken the meniscus in his knee and tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. He played his remaining 17 years on one knee.

March 10th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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