Inside the Brain: Neurosurgeon, Athlete, LSU Alum Dr. Jason Cormier
July 13, 2023
On this episode of "On Par," go inside the brain with two-time LSU graduate Dr. Jason Cormier. Cormier is a nationally renowned neurosurgeon who also played LSU basketball under head coach Dale Brown. A Lafayette native, Cormier chose to practice medicine in Louisiana, and as a physician, he is an international expert in brain injury and concussion who said he thrives on stress. He has worked with organizations like the NFL, NASCAR, NCAA football and motorcycle racing. He shared tips on how to maintain a healthy brain and what things our brains can do that computers can't do.
Dr. Jason Cormier is a Lafayette-based neurosurgeon, Louisiana native and former LSU student athlete, playing basketball under Coach Dale Brown. As a physician, he is an international expert in brain injury and concussion. He has worked with organizations like the NFL, NASCAR, NCAA football and motorcycle racing.
On Par – Dr. Cormier
[00:00:00] President William F. Tate IV: Welcome to On Par with the President. Joining me today is Dr. Jason Cormier, a neurosurgeon, Louisiana native and former LSU student athlete, playing basketball under Coach Dale Brown. As a physician, he is an international expert in brain injury and concussion. Well, we're gonna get right at it. Did you know when you were a student at LSU that you would become a doctor at this point in your life?
[00:00:29] Dr. Jason Cormier: I didn't really have a good idea. I was always relatively good and solid when it came to the sciences. But, my goal was to play a few years in college and ultimately, uh, uh, try out for the NBA. Um, I didn't realize I was going to be a doctor. Uh, it, it-- just, just, just immediately.
[00:00:50] President William F. Tate IV: So, talk about your LSU experience. What did you enjoy about your time here at LSU?
[00:00:56] Dr. Jason Cormier: LSU is one of those institutions that's homegrown, just from the beginning. I remember late nights watching Coach Brown, you know, coach the Tigers to different championships and always had the, the dreams of one day wearing the LSU jersey, and, and when I got there, it was more than I could have ever imagined just in terms of the support, the, the fun, the community, the, the student body. How they got behind the, the athletes and really the, the tutors that were put in place as a student athlete to try to help us succeed. And so, my time at LSU was very good. It was a very good learning experience and I still have friends from those experiences today.
[00:01:39] President William F. Tate IV: That's awesome. So, how did you decide upon the neurosurgery specialty?
[00:01:44] Dr. Jason Cormier: It's interesting, you know, I worked at the Baton Rouge General Hospital when I was... kind of later on during my, uh, school years at LSU, after basketball. And I was a transporter and as a transporter at Baton Rouge General, I was able to work with some of the surgeons, uh, general surgery, cardiovascular surgery, and ultimately neurosurgery. And that really spearheaded my, my decision ultimately to go into medicine because I looked at doctors like they were my heroes and I wanted to be there for patients in their, in their moments of need. And so, going through med school, really I was, I was geared towards-- or most interested in thoracic surgery. And really in my, into my third year, it just wasn't quite as fulfilling as I thought it would be. And I felt like I was traveling that path for the wrong reasons.
[00:02:39] And so, in my fourth-year beginning, I did, uh, rotations, one particularly in neurology and neurosurgery. And neurosurgery reminded me that you can go anywhere in the body that you want to. You can do the-- work with the nervous system, you can work with the vascular system. And that ended up with a conversation I had with Najeeb Thomas, who, um, was one of the surgeons that I uh, had pleasure of meeting, uh, a few times. He said, "You know, you're only gonna be as good as your last complication." And that resonated so well with me. I had a conversation with my best friend at the time, and that really kind of did it, and neurosurgery is where I ended up. And I feel privileged, and I've never looked back.
[00:03:19] President William F. Tate IV: You've taken a special interest in traumatic brain injuries. What inspired you to engage that kind of medical science?
[00:03:26] Dr. Jason Cormier: So, traumatic brain injury, probably my racing association and love for racing. And so, a number of people, uh, particularly all in high-contact sports, experienced traumatic brain injury. It's one of those things that now we know more about it, and now as a neurosurgeon, I understand it better. So, I wanted to give back. And I felt like if I could combine both neurosurgery, you know, in the way of traumatic brain injury with spinal cord injuries, um, I would be, I would be able-- I would be in a position, a greater position now since I really still love racing. I love sports-- that would be my way of giving back. And so I delved in further with Julian Bailes, probably literally considered the, the top, um, brain injury, uh, expert in the world. And we came upon this name of Motorsport Safety Group and really kind of following his lead, and he's been a mentor in, in that segment of my interests. I delve deeper and deeper into the technologies to not only, uh, prevent brain injury, but also diagnosis and now treat it. And that's what my Motorsport Safety Group is all about.
[00:04:28] President William F. Tate IV: Why practice medicine in Louisiana?
[00:04:31] Dr. Jason Cormier: Louisiana has so many different facets. You know, good food, good people. It's, it's home and there's nothing you can really replace, you know, if you're at home in comparison to, uh, somewhere else. Let me tell you, in Louisiana, they pronounce my name the way it's supposed to be pronounced. And look, you, you nailed it. But, Louisiana brings something, uh, to the table that I find that other states don't. They take care of their own, they welcome their own, and I've been able to do a number of things that I would not be able to do in the way of different types of high-complex surgery procedures that might be challenged. That might be looked upon as well, maybe that's a little bit too dangerous. But I've been able to do a number of things that are in some-- that are written about only in some textbooks, like spinal cord rotations, uh, awake craniotomies, and they're doing some of these things in other institutions. But Louisiana has really embraced it, and I get to watch, you know, my Tigers. I, I get to go to LSU, I get to watch, you know, the football games in person and the basketball games and, and be able to interact with those guys.
[00:05:34] President William F. Tate IV: Well, it's very difficult to become a neurosurgeon. How, how do you relate, um, the things you learned as a division 1 athlete with respect to becoming a neurosurgeon and continuing in that world?
[00:05:48] Dr. Jason Cormier: I think the way-- becoming a student athlete, and I can only speak from my experiences at LSU, is that time management was a big deal. Mike Mallett, um, was a big proponent of that. So was Coach Brown and the other coaches under him. And, time management is really how you are able to hone in on what you need to do, scholastically. And so you're, if you're able to balance sports as well as, um, you know, your academics, then med school really isn't that difficult.
[00:06:19] By the time I got to med school, I didn't feel like it was really all that difficult, to be honest with you, because I didn't have to balance the rigors of, of, um, sports and all that. It was mainly getting in, uh, studying, doing what you had to do. And then the wear and tear of just competing as an athlete. Your body was also conditioned to go into long hours of studying. So, that made it all very, um, manageable and realistic to me to be able to go through the rigors of medical school.
[00:06:48] President William F. Tate IV: Well, you mentioned Coach Brown. Are there any other things that you learned from him that you still apply today in your day-to-day life?
[00:06:55] Dr. Jason Cormier: Coach Brown wrote this book, it was called "Don't Count Me Out." And he was always one of those guys that would send us different, uh, uh, sayings to just kind of keep us uplifted. And, I remember when we played Georgetown in the Superdome and we were, we were just-- already, it was already said we were gonna be annihilated and Coach Brown came into the locker room. He said before the game, "Tomorrow, the newspaper's gonna say, 'Tigers Stun Hoyas.'" I'll never forget that.
[00:07:24] And so, we walked out, and of course we had some really good guys on the team, but they were really, they-- talent for talent. They, we were out, man. And we beat them by two points in a sold-out crowd in the Superdome. Several thousands of people. And literally the newspaper the next day said, "Tigers Stun Hoyas." And so, memorable things like that. You know, what he said, you know, he always spoke from the hip. The coaches underneath him, doc-- I mean, Coach Abernathy, Coach Johnny Jones. Those are, there's just a whole composite of what, um, the LSU athletics had to offer. Uh, and then you move over to baseball and Skip Bertman.
[00:08:01] So, all these different memories of how athletics were able to just carry themselves to the next level because of those teachings, because of the, the, the ability to the, of the athletes to buy in to not only from a, from an athletic standpoint, but also from a scholastic, uh, standpoint. It, it was very-- I was very proud to be there and proud of where I am today because of it.
[00:08:21] President William F. Tate IV: Well, that had to be a high-pressure situation, you going to play Georgetown in Louisiana. You handle high-pressure situations and injuries all the time. How do you manage that in terms of your work in neurosurgery and, and the brain injuries, you're, you're trying to impact?
[00:08:37] Dr. Jason Cormier: Well, I, I, I tell you it's a, it's a good question.
[00:08:39] And, and, and when I've, I've thought about this, oftentimes-- I, I invite stress. And so I, I really thrive, I find myself that I'm a person that thrives on, on stress. And I think it's one of those things, you know, I was a point guard, um, at LSU. Didn't get much playing time because I was playing behind, uh, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who was just, you know, genius at basketball. No one could ever stop him. Even, even the likes of, of Michael Jordan, uh, a comment on him as, as he scored 39 points on him one time.
[00:09:08] So, you know, with playing under that, you still want to have the ball in your hands when there's three seconds left on the clock. Regardless if you played or not, we're all competing at a high level. So, for neurosurgery, I bring that same sort of, I guess, mentality. And that if you're in dire need of my help, you want to be on my table because I'm gonna do all I can to save your life.
[00:09:29] President William F. Tate IV: Well, you work on the human brain, this complex, um, machine biological wonder. If you had to say one thing about the brain, um, for someone who's just wants an insight from an expert, what would you say to them about our-- the brain?
[00:09:49] Dr. Jason Cormier: Wow. One thing...
[00:09:51] President William F. Tate IV: Just gimme, gimme two.
[00:09:53] Dr. Jason Cormier: Yeah. So I would, I would say that, you know, the brain, I think is the most fascinating organ that we have because it's able to do what machines will never be able to do. I think because there's emotion, um, the, the brain can feel, the brain can think, and it has thoughts and it, it controls your overall personality. And I think that, you know, when you think about the brain and over 86 million, I mean 86 billion cells, and those cells are based on function, form, and connectivity, that when you think about things like AI and the rise of artificial intelligence, people don't realize that you need really big supercomputers that are only found in certain places in the world that are able to deal with computers that are based on probability that are scary, in my opinion.
[00:10:43] Whereas the brain, we don't do that. We don't need that. The super, the, the, you know, the supercomputers, that is your brain. And the cooling systems are in your brain. We're able to do much more than AI can do ever, and we don't need, we don't burn the energy that these, that these machines are actually, uh, burning.
[00:10:58] So, I think that the brain is so fascinating. And that we are able to operate on the brain while you're wide awake, because the brain doesn't feel pain, it only interprets pain. There are several times I, I do awake craniotomies and I allow the, the families to speak to the patient while they're on the table during the operating room and it helps to bring them, um, in the operating room and it helps the outcomes, uh, uh, you know, a lot, lot more.
[00:11:20] President William F. Tate IV: So, people actually get to watch the surgeries?
[00:11:23] Dr. Jason Cormier: They-- so the families don't, they get to speak to 'em.
[00:11:26] President William F. Tate IV: Okay.
[00:11:26] Dr. Jason Cormier: So, usually the anesthesiologist will have the family on like a, like a speakerphone and they'll speak to 'em while I'm actually resecting tumor, uh, or if I'm doing in, in, in intraoperative brain mapping. So that's a very, very common thing here, here, here, here, that we do. Um, now I do have students that come in and actually watch the procedures. Residents come in and watch the, the, uh, procedures. And they get to see a real live, living brain and how we interact with it, and utilizing the different neuro navigational techniques that we utilize to get to these, these different areas of, uh, pathology, whether it's a tumor or some sort of epilepsy surgery.
[00:12:01] President William F. Tate IV: Outstanding to hear. Now, if you had to outline your, your greatest contribution to the field of neurology, what would you, what would you say? And don't be humble, you know, I know, I know a lot of folks like to be humble on the, on the podcast, but we wanna, we wanna hear your thoughts on the very best that you think you've done for the field.
[00:12:19] Dr. Jason Cormier: I think me personally, you know, I'm the one that will still put their hands on patients. There are a number of physicians that don't do that. Uh, a person will walk into their office or walk into their exam room, and they'll look at X-rays and they'll send them on their way. I get to know my patients, I put my hands on 'em, I talk to 'em. I get to know, you know, how many members do you have in your family, kids and whatnot. So, I think I bring that hands-on, um, down-home, really person-- personal feel to, uh, the surgery. I think I operate on friends, people that I know. The next thing, from a medical standpoint, I think I've brought to neurosurgery: those things of preventing brain injury and technologies engaging the industry like Q30 and the Q-Collar, um, which has been shown to help concussions by over 80%.
[00:13:09] Um, from a detective standpoint, a diagnostic standpoint, I've engaged technologies to be able to accurately, uh, diagnose concussions and then also from a treatment standpoint. And so, I think I've brought those things to neurosurgery, and I got into neurosurgery because I wanted to change it and make it better. I hope that I have, there are other surgeons that are much brighter than I am, that they've provided some contributions as well, uh, that I would argue are, are a lot greater. But I think that's what I've brought to neurosurgery. I hope to, to continue that.
[00:13:40] President William F. Tate IV: So, you've been working to mitigate head injuries in sport. What, what have you done in terms of your work with college or professional football to prevent head injuries?
[00:13:48] Dr. Jason Cormier: The Q collar is, um, it's, uh, accompanied by the name of Q30 Innovations. And basically, it's based on the physiology of the woodpecker and the Balarama. Woodpecker can generate 1200 to 1500 Gs every time it strikes that that tree. And what it does, people probably don't know this, but there the tongue wraps around the, the, the head of the brain of the, of the woodpecker, uh, before it exits its mouth. Um, whereas the bowel ram, what we have in common is something called the omohyoid ligament. Sits right underneath your, your jaw.
[00:14:18] And what happens is when every time you yawn, you mildly obstruct a small amount of blood that, uh, drains from your head. You don't completely obstruct it, but there's a mild amount, so you have an extra few mills of blood inside your brain, so it prevents the slosh effect. So it's almost like filling a glass of water, sealing it, and then trying to shake it. And essentially, that protects the slosh of the movement of the brain inside of the skull. So what you have is you've kind of created a bubble wrap or a cushioning of the brain inside the skull. And that's been something that now a number of college football players are wearing. NFLs, uh, players are wearing. Uh, you can see it on on Sundays now. Um, now basketball players are wearing it. A lot of the female basketball players are wearing it. And in other sports it's kind of just trickled down.
[00:15:04] And so that's really helped, uh, a lot of athletes that have been stricken with brain injury, concussions, uh, dizziness, headaches, you name it. And a lot of these things are working, and we know this from, from, um, from third, from third party acquisitions of studies that have been conducted.
[00:15:21] President William F. Tate IV: One other question for you that is related to something I've asked you already. Um, how do you maintain a healthy brain?
[00:15:29] Dr. Jason Cormier: Wow. So, do as I say, not as I do. I guess that's probably the safest thing to do. You know, I would always tell you that sleep is good. Uh, I don't sleep that much, but, um, making sure you get rest, you know, exercise and tax your brain. And what I mean by that is read or write something every single day, educate yourself, keep your mind in motion and look to encounter new educational tasks.
[00:15:54] Um, and so I think intermittent meditation's great, but I can't say enough about, you know, a balanced diet, exercising, you know, three to four times a week, making sure you have good people around you. So, good surroundings. Um, being in nature whenever you can, being accountable, um, and ultimately, you know, living your life, um, to, to the fullest. Not, not engaging in things that are dangerous, unless you're truly passionate about it. And I think those things are-- crossword puzzles are always good. Don't engage in all 35 different supplements. There's only one or two good ones you actually need. I think the body's gonna get rid of whatever it is you don't need. So what you put in your body, if it's poison, it's gonna go right out.
[00:16:37] President William F. Tate IV: now you said one or two. I'm sorry, I've gotta stop you. Everybody's gonna say, "You didn't ask him which two."
[00:16:43] Dr. Jason Cormier: [laughs] So, I think that things are proven. So I will tell you that the omega3 fatty acids have been proven. Um, I sit on one of the boards, uh, of, um, a company called, um, "Brain Armor", and they have proven, uh, studies on-- in terms of brain injury as well as cognition. Uh, and you can also, um, test for your omega3, um, fatty acid index, and it'll show you in different areas just how omega3 fatty acids help just in terms of, uh, of helping just with the brain, uh, you know, in general.
[00:17:16] And there's also another, uh, a company I'm not associated with, um, that I believe in. It's called "On It." O-N-I-T. And they have some, um, you know, supplements within that that I've actually shown that I believe in that actually help, help. Um, Bokova Manari is one of those components of that. And so I think those are the two that I really like and that I support, that I've seen. Um, really some peer-to-peer reviewed studies on. Um, a lot of other things that you see out there really haven't been peer to peer reviewed and proven.
[00:17:47] President William F. Tate IV: Alright, we're gonna have a little bit of fun. I read that you also are a race car driver. How did you get into that? And what gives you comfort to do that with all that you've just talked to us about in terms of, you know, keeping the brain healthy?
[00:18:03] Dr. Jason Cormier: That's a great question and, and my brother John is the fault for that. My brother John drives fast and that's where it all started. But you know, racing. You know, racing starts before you get in the car or before you get behind, you know, wheel, motorcycle or the handlebars of of motorcycle. It starts for us it was who could race, who could brush your teeth the quickest, right? Who could get to the light switch the quickest? And so that's where it started when we were five, six or seven years old. And I think race car drivers would tell you the same thing as well.
[00:18:31] And so, by the time I got to racing, it was like it was already said and done. And I think that, so racing for me, it's a-- it's peaceful. You can't get a speeding ticket. And I think if you compare, would I rather drive fast in traffic, which I wouldn't do, it's actually safer to drive on a race car in a racetrack because those drivers know what they're doing, and you know, they know how to, how to get around you. They're not, you know, a novice that might be text messaging or drinking or doing certain things that they shouldn't be doing. And plus, you have protective gear on. So I think for racing, for me, for those segments of it, uh, it -- I find peace in it. It's exhilarating. It's you against the machine. I like the fact that you can push the machine to the limits and then nudge it even more. And I, you know, I, I'm a kind of a, I, yeah, I love the stress of many things.
[00:19:22] I compare that to neurosurgery. Um, and I think racing's kind of the same way for me. So being able to push the machines about 180, 190 miles per hour around a curve, I, I think that's exhilarating. And again, you're on the track with people that know how to drive, not in five o'clock traffic when people are text messaging.
[00:19:38] President William F. Tate IV: Alright now, now you really set this up here. So, playing Division 1 basketball, brain surgery or race car driver. Which one brings you more happiness?
[00:19:52] Dr. Jason Cormier: I am blessed to say that I look forward to each one because wow, if I had to choose, it would be difficult. It'd have to be, what would I choose on the weekend? Well, probably racing. What would I choose during the week? Well, neurosurgery, unless someone called, and I would have to include that as well. You know, basketball has been a love. I, I follow it and would I play, would I do this all over again? Absolutely. And I think one feeds off the other. And if I didn't do one of those things, I wouldn't be who I am and where I am today.
[00:20:26] So I guess I would-- if I were a student looking at the things that I did, I'm an average human being and my book is about failures and overcoming that, um, I think it all came together and I don't think that that I would be a neurosurgeon if it wasn't for basketball, if it wasn't for music, if it wasn't for for racing, I wouldn't be a race car driver, if it wasn't for basketball, wasn't for music. So all those things come together and it's kind of the perfect marriage that made me who I am today. And I can't say enough about God, my family, uh, Kaitlyn, my fiancé, and my mother, um, who did all they could to bring me who I am today.
[00:21:00] President William F. Tate IV: Well, sir, doctor, this has been quite the treat. And if we had more time, I would get off into your music and the brain, but we don't have time. But I hope when we see each other face to face, we can have a little bit of conversation about how you see the music and the mind working together. But it's, it's great to talk to you. Thank you for what you're doing and, uh, your, your, your excitement about serving other people is quite powerful and I'm glad you were an LSU Tiger as a basketball player and that stimulated you to go on to your current career. It's, uh, it's a wonderful example of what the student-athlete experience can birth. So, we greatly appreciate you, sir.
[00:21:41] Dr. Jason Cormier: Well, Dr. Tate, thank you for letting me share a piece of my story. It's always a privilege, and, uh, and I'm proud, proud to be here and, and I'm so proud of everything you're doing. Thank you.