Ronnie Polaneczky: New Year's resolution that's just plain dope-y

ASSOCIATED PRESS What worked for Lance Armstrong could work for you, if you don't mind having blood that's thick as jam.
ASSOCIATED PRESS What worked for Lance Armstrong could work for you, if you don't mind having blood that's thick as jam.
Posted: January 24, 2013

I DON'T MAKE New Year's resolutions. I fail at enough things I attempt. Who needs an annual opportunity to blow it again?

If I were to make a resolution, though, it would be to quit caffeine. I start each morning with a double espresso, then sip French roast all day. By bedtime, I'm like one of those fish that sleeps with its eyes open.

Clearly, I need a replacement for the pick-me-up that the bean provides.

That's why I've been on a mission to blood-dope.

I got obsessed with the notion after Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah that he's a world-class cheat. He didn't only blood-dope, of course. He also used testosterone, human growth hormone and EPO (a drug that stimulates red-blood-cell growth).

I'm not inclined to try the latter products. Who knows the hidden poisons they contain? Besides, I'd probably wind up with a beard.

But blood doping sounded intriguing.

I'd get someone to extract a pint of my own blood (the way it is during a routine donation). The blood would then be stored for a month while my body created a new pint to replace it. Once I got back up to a full tank, my stored blood would then be transfused into my arm, delivering extra, energizing oxygen to my system via the boosted red blood cells swimming in my veins.

If the practice helped power Armstrong to seven Tour de France victories, what might it do for a working stiff like myself?

Except, no reputable medical professional will help me realize my peppy dream (and thank God for that, it turns out).

A spokesman for the local chapter of the American Red Cross wouldn't even allow a member of the organization's advisory board to explain to me the pros and cons of the blood-doping process.

"So, no advice on how to dope?" I asked spokesman Anthony Tornetta.

"It's just not something we would be involved in," he demurred. "We'd encourage you to try an expert at one of the local hospitals."

But I struck out there, too. Although I did speak with some very smart docs who explained why I'd be a total dope to transfuse blood into my system without the medical need for it.

"Too many red cells can thicken the blood," creating clots that can cause a stroke or heart attack, said Dr. Mark Weiss, director of hematologic malignancies at Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center. "To use a crude metaphor, there's a risk that your blood would become more like grape jam than grape juice."

Now there's an image I won't soon forget.

Even if I were willing to risk medical catastrophe by blood doping, Weiss continued, I probably wouldn't detect a difference in my energy level, since my blood levels are normal.

"Maybe you'd be able to climb the stairs in eight seconds instead of 10," he said. "Is that worth the risk to your health?"

Such a scant increase, though, can give elite athletes an edge in competitions when victory is measured in tenths of a second, said Randy Young, M.D., chair of the division of pulmonary and critical care at Albert Einstein Medical Center. That's why they take the medical risk of pumping up their blood volume.

But the people who feel the biggest lift after a transfusion are those who actually need it.

"That's the irony of blood doping," he said. "People who are lacking red blood cells" - like dialysis patients, whose kidneys have stopped making the hormone that creates them - "would give anything to not need a transfusion. To blood-dope is a waste of resources, and a moral outrage."

And potentially criminal for doctors who abuse their medical expertise to help patients in unethical ways.

Remember Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's personal physician? He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for using the narcotic propofol - normally administered in an operating room - to help Jackson get a good rest.

And did he ever.

It's not a stretch to imagine a blood-doping doctor suffering the same consequences as Murray's if his abuse brought about a similar result.

So, obviously, there will be no blood doping for me. But, I asked Young, could he recommend a way to boost my energy that wouldn't land him in trouble or me in a grave?

"You could increase the frequency and intensity of your own exercise," he said helpfully. "That would make a big difference."

Ah, yes. The dignified effort of routine exercise. Sounds like a New Year's resolution to onlme.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: philly.com/ronnieblog

Columns: philly.com/Ronnie

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