Why Was Andrew Drawing Pictures Of Himself Hanging From A Tree?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

He had always been a happy and sweet kid, so when nine-year-old Andrew suddenly attacked a girl on the baseball field for no apparent reason, something was clearly wrong. But no one, not even his mother, could have ever anticipated what would happen next. In this special episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen tell the amazing and heartwarming story of how young Andrew’s life was changed forever.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here, we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit brainmdhealth.com. Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, and stay tuned for a special code for a discount to Amen Clinics, for a full evaluation, as well as any of our supplements at brainmdhealth.com.

Welcome back everybody. So, I want to actually talk about something kind of fun and different today. I keep getting calls from people I know and texts about this video that's going around. It's like seriously viral. It's got like 37 million views or something crazy now.

Dr. Daniel Amen: 38.

Tana Amen: 38 million views now, and it's my husband.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Wow.

Tana Amen: It's a little weird. It's a little bit weird.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Did it embarrass you?

Tana Amen: No, it was super cool. It was actually really sexy. So, it's really cool when your husband goes viral like that. It's kind of awesome. So, let's talk about it, because I've heard the story a lot of times, and here's what's so interesting. This is why I thought it was so interesting. I've heard the story a lot. I've heard you tell a story a lot. I've heard it in presentations. But for some reason, this video went viral. I don't know what makes things go viral, but when I watched it, I think it's because you didn't know you were actually being videotaped. Someone got it on their phone and just posted it.

And so, I think you were not ... This wasn't like your TED Talk where it was more formal. It was just you, sort of raw emotion, telling the story of Andrew who is your godson or a nephew. And it was ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: I get teary just thinking about the story again.

Tana Amen: Right, but that's what happened. You were raw, natural, and you didn't know that it was going to be posted like that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, and there's a context to it that most people don't know. When we first started doing our brain imaging work here at Amen Clinics, in 1991, I was so excited. I was just like a little kid.

Tana Amen: Had a new tool.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I had to study to help, be a better doctor, or I didn't make five cents on it. I just got really excited about it. And then-

Tana Amen: So, let me back up, because doctors pretty much ... psychiatrists pretty much guess up until this point, and now, you're like, "Oh wait a second. I actually get to look at the brain. I get to have more targeted treatment." You weren't doing them in the clinics at the time, so you were sending people out to have them done.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Correct.

Tana Amen: You were just excited that now you could actually be way more specific about treatment.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right.

Tana Amen: Okay.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so, I was an X-ray technician when I was in the army.

Tana Amen: So, it's made sense.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And our professor used to always say, "How do you know unless you look?" And then when I fell in love with psychiatry, for so many reasons, I fell in love with the only medical specialty that virtually never looks at the organ they treat. I just knew that was wrong right that we needed more biological information, because stigma is so high among people who have mental health problems. No one wants to be labeled as crazy or defective. And that first lecture, I mean, I just remember it like it was yesterday. I was like smiling inside, and I walked out of the lecture to a woman, a room. She'd just been admitted the night before, and she tried to kill herself.

I thought I knew what was going on with her, but she wouldn't cooperate, and I'm saying, "Well can we look at your brain?" When she saw her brain, she started to cry, and she said, "You mean it's not my fault?"

Tana Amen: Something that we actually hear a lot.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So, for the first couple of years, I mean, I got really excited about it, and by 1991, I was writing a column in the local newspaper. I'd already written a couple of books. I had a big national book published in 1992, and so, I had my own platform. So because you have your own platform, when you say something that's new and different, or in this case, radical-

Tana Amen: It's like a target on your back.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's like "looking at the brain before you actually go about changing it" radical. I got all sorts of criticism. I was not good at dealing with that. It made me mad, and it made me anxious, and I didn't really know how to deal with the criticism. And then-

Tana Amen: I just want to interject one thing, because when I met you, and we'll go back to that. But when I met you, because I know how the industry, the medical community in general, thinks of psychiatry. It's like, yeah, you guys guess. And so, there tends to be this ... It's not a secret. I almost canceled my first date with you when I found out you're a psychiatrist. It's not a secret. So, there's just this idea that they do things differently, right? But I had worked for a company called Medtronic. So, Medtronic did ... and one of the therapies that I worked with was called deep brain stimulation, DBS. So, really interesting.

We actually worked with the brain mapping. So, before they do DBS, they do brain mapping. When I first met you, our first date, I thought, "Okay. I'm just going to get through this date. I'm going to be really polite, then I'm going to leave." But it didn't go that way, because when I first met you, you started talking about scans, and I'm like, "Wait. That's so, so interesting," because like with brain mapping, I knew exactly what you were talking about, and I'm like, "You're sort of looking at the brain, like, mapping it almost."

Dr. Daniel Amen: It is a map.

Tana Amen: But it made sense. I'm like-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And then right after I met you, I wanted to map your brain, because I really liked you.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I didn't want to like you if your brain was messed up.

Tana Amen: But my first was, why aren't all psychiatrists doing this? So, in my mind, it made complete sense.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Which has been my question from the moment I ordered scans. But if you go back to 1995, people were calling me a charlatan and a quack, and I'm taking advantage of mentally ill people by charging the money to look at the brain. Even though, in 1995, and this story actually doesn't take place in my office.

Tana Amen: Yeah, you weren't even getting the money for it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. Anyways, so, all that context to say it was an anxious time for me. Loved what I did, where I was being in to see people from all over Northern California, where our first clinic was. And then late one night, in April 1995, I got a call from my sister-in-law Sherry, who told me that my nine-year-old nephew Andrew, who's also my godson ... I love this boy ... had attacked a little girl on the baseball field that day for no particular reason. Horrified, "Sherry," I said, "Excuse me? What else is going on?" And she said, "Danny, he's different. He's mean. He doesn't smile anymore," and I went into his room today and found two pictures he had drawn.

One of them, he was hanging from a tree. The other picture, he was shooting other children. Andrew in retrospect was Columbine, or Sandy Hook, or Parkland, Florida waiting to happen.

Tana Amen: Right. You know, as a mom, with a child in school, and many people listening to this are moms with kids in school. We've seen kids like this, right? We know kids like this, and we get scared, and we don't want our kids playing with these kids. Now, I have a different framework, but you know kids like this, and you have to wonder what makes little kids behave this way, young children behave this way.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, when I heard that, I said, "I want to see him," and they live in Southern California. At the time, I was in Northern California, and I said, "I want to see him tomorrow." I remember when I walked into the office and saw him, it's like my heart melt, because I knew something was going on with him, and I'm like, "Buddy, what's going on?" He said, "Uncle Danny, I don't know. I'm mad all the time." I said, "Is anybody hurting you?" He said, "No." I said, "Is anybody teasing you?" He said, "No." I said, "Is anybody touching you in places they shouldn't be touching you?" He said, "No."

My first thought was to scan him, because that's what I do, and I'd already seen hundreds of violent children. I was suspecting he had a left temporal lobe problem. So part of the brain we and others had associated with violence, but my next thought was you want to scan everybody. And so, I start doing the stuff in my training.

Tana Amen: [crosstalk 00:09:40] head, yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: He's the second son in a Lebanese family. I'm the second son in a Lebanese family. That gives you all sorts of issues, trust me. His older brother is perfect. He's struggling in school. And then after about 30 seconds of that in my head, the left side of my brain went, "Stop it. Nine-year-olds don't attack people for no reason. You need to scan him. If his brain is healthy, then we can find out the psychological reason for this behavior," because we talked about it on the show all the time that-

Tana Amen: Four circles.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... there are biological reasons people have trouble. There are psychological, there are social, and there are spiritual reasons people have trouble. And so, I actually went to the Imaging Center. It was not part of Amen Clinics at the time. I held his hand as he held his teddy bear. When the scan came up on the monitor, I'd never seen one like that before. My mentor, Jack [Poldi 00:10:49] was there. And so, his mom and dad couldn't hear ... He wrote down on a piece of paper "cyst, tumor or stroke."

Tana Amen: Oh my gosh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm horrified, but I'm also glad we have a reason that Andrew was acting the way he was.

Tana Amen: To explain it, yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And we got an MRI that day. We found a cyst the size of a golf ball occupying the space of his left temporal lobe. I called his pediatrician in Orange, California, Southern California, and I said, "You find someone to take this out," and he called three neurologists. He called me back a week later, and he said-

Tana Amen: A week?

Dr. Daniel Amen: A week later. He said, "None of the neurologists would recommend operating on him," that they didn't think it was related to his symptoms. And oh, by the way, they wouldn't ever consider operating until he had real symptoms.

Tana Amen: The thought of shooting other children is not a real symptom I guess.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's a behavioral problem, and many years ago, there was a divorce between psychiatry and neurology, and psychiatry is the specialty that didn't get [crosstalk 00:12:05].

Tana Amen: As a mom, if that's your kid, that's a real symptom by the way.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So I'm screaming at Dr. Hall, "What do you mean real symptoms of a homicidal, suicidal child?" He got really anxious. I called a friend of mine, a pediatric neurologist, at Harvard, and she told me the same thing, and I started screaming at her too. And then I'm thinking to myself, "Neurologist, neurologist, neurosurgeons. Neurosurgeons do stuff." And so, I called the pediatric-

Tana Amen: Yeah, so, I'm a neurosurgical ICU nurse. That's why I thought what you did was so cool. So, yeah, I can relate to this.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so, I called UCLA and talked to the pediatric neurosurgeon. His name is Jorge Lazareff. He's famous. He separated the Guatemalan twins. But to me, he was famous before them, because he said, "When cysts are symptomatic, we drain them." He's obviously symptomatic. And after surgery, I got two calls, one from Sherry, Andrew's mother who said, "When Andrew woke up from surgery, he smiled at her." She said, "Danny, he hadn't smiled for a year," and the second call was from Dr. Lazareff who said, "Oh my god Dr. Amen, that cyst, we didn't see it on the MRI. It was so aggressive that it actually thinned the bone over his temporal lobe, that if he would have been hit in the head, he would have died instantly."

Tana Amen: Oh my gosh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Like with a basketball. Either way, he would have been dead in six months. And his behavior completely went back to normal. Now, it wasn't easy, right? I mean, they had to drain the cyst a number of times, but Andrew's behavior went back to normal — sweet, loving, connected.

Tana Amen: Well I know Andrew today, and he's just a nice person.

Dr. Daniel Amen: 23 years later, and he's got a job. He owns his own home. He's married.

Tana Amen: He's married.

Dr. Daniel Amen: He just got married. What would have happened if we wouldn't have looked at his brain? See, not looking is not science. It's malpractice. When you have symptoms that are not getting better with traditional things, somebody should look at the brain. And so, I told that story at the end of the lecture at Saddleback Church. It's actually part of an hour-long lecture. I told it just with raw emotion, and for some reason, somebody posted it, not me, on a website, Facebook [crosstalk 00:14:46].

Tana Amen: Oh I've gotten like ... yeah.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And the first week, it had seven million views. And now, it's like four months later, it's got 38 million views, and it's got 26,000 comments.

Tana Amen: Crazy.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I often won't read the comments.

Tana Amen: Because they're too ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: Because I've had plenty of haters over the years, and it's like, "I just don't need the grief." But one day, I decided I would start reading them, and they just made me cry. They're so beautiful about how they've had family members who've had similar things.

Tana Amen: Now, I know the story, but that had an impact on your anxiety at the time about whether or not-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh I completely lost my anxiety. When something's so personal that if you don't look at the brain of somebody who's struggling, shame on you. It's like, "What's the matter with you?"

Tana Amen: I'm sorry, because I have a personal ... It just irritates me. I have to throw this in. Part of it is the financial model with our medical system. It's part of why it's not approved for ... It's not approved by insurance, and it's not in clinical practice and all of that stuff. It has really nothing to do with whether or not it's good for patients. So, it's really irritating. I find that, as a mother, if I felt that I needed it, that would really irritate me.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and that's why here at Amen Clinics, we do 12-month interest rate financing, and we try to make it as affordable for everyone. And for people listening to the podcast, there's a podcast code. It's podcast10, and they get a discount, but that's not the point of telling this story. The point of telling this story is this is really my passion story.

Tana Amen: Well I just thought it was so cool, because I'm getting ... actually, you know, I practice karate. And so, my karate instructor actually had someone call me who said, "They saw this video," and at the time, I didn't know about the video. I'm like, "What? What video?" I thought maybe it was your TED Talk. She's like, "No, no, not the Ted Talk." She's like, "I know about that one, but that's not the video." I'm like, "What is she talking about?" This video is going around everywhere, and then I find out about it, and it was-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Terry, our CEO, was at the yoga studio, and they were passing it around and women were crying.

Tana Amen: Right. It's so funny. So, it's really cool. Yeah, lots of fun.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The exciting message of that video is you're not stuck with the brain you have. You can change it. We can prove it. One of the things we want you to be is a Brain Warrior, which means you're serious about your brain health, and you're armed, prepared and aware. Stay with us.