Depending on who is talking, Galea, who earned his medical degree at the highly regarded McMaster University in Ontario, is either a supremely talented and progressive healer or a purveyor of impossible cures who disregards rules. The former is the image that has spread through the highest echelon of professional athletes, sometimes to the dismay of team officials.
Last summer New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes went to see Galea for treatment of a torn right hamstring. He did so on the recommendation of teammate Carlos Beltran, who'd seen Galea for a bone bruise below his right knee after hearing from a friend that the doctor had treated Woods. According to a team official, the Mets, concerned about Galea's methods, sent a member of their medical staff along with Reyes. Two of Galea's colleagues told SI that a Mets doctor had previously called to chastise Galea and his group for consulting with Beltran without the team's approval. (The Mets declined to comment.)
While team doctors tend to be skeptical of Galea's approach, athletes often see him as a medical miracle worker. Four months before last February's Vancouver Olympics, for example, Patrick Chan, Canada's top hope for a gold medal in men's figure skating, went to see Galea about a pesky left-calf injury that had kept him off the ice for a few weeks and that other doctors had struggled to diagnose. Galea quickly identified a muscle tear and treated Chan with ultrasound and PRP therapy. According to an athletic therapist who works with Canadian Olympians, Chan was convinced that Galea had cured the tear in a span of two days. Chan did indeed return to training, but ongoing calf problems persuaded him not to try a quadruple jump at the Olympics.
"If it was a tear, it doesn't heal in 24 to 48 hours," says the athletic therapist. "These PRP injections have science behind them, but not [miraculous] science. Everybody's looking for a magic cure that will help [heal an injury] faster, but nobody's got it."
When Galea addressed his work with Chan, who finished fifth at the Games, at a sports medicine lecture in Vancouver in March, his assessment of the skater's situation was simple: "If we'd injected him earlier, he probably would've won the Olympics."
According to Steve Roest, owner of the Fitness Institute in suburban Toronto, where Galea used to work as an in-house doctor, Galea has "gone Hollywood" in the last two or three years, referring to the prominence of his clientele. "He's not a guy to market himself," says Roest, who credits Galea with helping him recover in 2008 from a torn right biceps he suffered while playing pickup hockey, "but people find him." Galea has long been connected to football—he was the team doctor for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts from 2004 until he resigned last year—and more NFL players found him, Roest says, since he began treating former 2,000-yard rusher Jamal Lewis.
In 2006, when Lewis developed bone spurs on his right ankle while playing for the Baltimore Ravens, his agent directed him to two Canadian chiropractors, Keith Pyne, a rehab specialist, and Mark Lindsay, who, like Galea, works at the I.S.M. Health & Wellness Centre. Lewis soon began working with Galea as well.
Lewis's story helps explain why some athletes turn to "Dr. G," as some call him, even if their team officials don't approve. When it comes to team doctors, Lewis says, "you're depending on somebody else who doesn't have your best interest at hand. They're getting paid by the team and the owners, and they have the owners' best interest in mind."
In a 2000 Ravens playoff game against the Denver Broncos, Lewis says he tweaked his left knee. In his opinion, the injury was never properly addressed as he continued through the postseason all the way to the Super Bowl. The following year he tore the ACL in the same knee on a routine play in training camp. "In my heart, I felt that injury was already set in place the year before and we never got it checked out," he says. (A Ravens spokesman says Lewis was cleared to play by team doctors.)
Lewis's skepticism about team doctors only intensified last season while he was with the Cleveland Browns. He says he suffered a concussion in Week 1 that wasn't properly diagnosed and endured vomiting and other symptoms. (The Browns had no comment, but coach Eric Mangini said last year that Lewis first reported concussion symptoms in late November.) "You can't trust a team physician," said Lewis in an interview before he was released by Cleveland last February. "Anything they tell me goes in one ear and out the other."