An Iranian with a remarkable immigration story involving a mullah disguise and fake documents and hair-raising border crossings is now the medical director of a controversial chain of “brain performance” centers bankrolled by Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s pick for education secretary.
Majid Fotuhi, an MD and Ph.D., presides over the treatment side of Neurocore, which claims to achieve marked improvement in 90 percent or more of cases involving attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and anxiety. Some critics say the treatment is only a placebo that rouses unrealistic hopes and diverts resources from more promising approaches.
The Neurocore website explains that patients wear a cap with 19 brain sensors while they watch a video. The video switches off if the sensors indicate that the patient’s focus has lapsed. The video resumes when focus is restored. Other variables such as heart rate and breathing patterns are factored in. The result is what a company ad calls “a mind makeover.”
“All it takes is science,” the ad says.
As reported back in 2000 by the Times Higher Education, Fotuhi started life in Tehran and spent two years in his late teens hiding in a bathroom in a factory there to avoid being drafted into the Iran-Iraq War. He made his bed with towels in a bathtub.
The long war was still raging when Fotuhi reportedly sought to slip over the border with Turkey only to be arrested and jailed. His father is said to have secured his release.
The Times Higher Education article says that in a second bid to emigrate, Fotuhi disguised himself as a mullah, complete with beard. He reached Pakistan and is said to have used a forged visa to continue on to Montreal. He sought and received recognition as a refugee.
He is reported to have had a passionate interest in biology even before the long days in the factory bathtub. He earned an undergraduate degree at Concordia University in 1987 and he has cause in retrospect to be thankful that there was no ban on immigration by Iranians when he applied to study in America.
In 1992, he received a doctorate in brain science from Johns Hopkins University. He went on to Harvard Medical School and then embarked on a life in his adopted country as a physician, researcher, and educator. He was the author of numerous scientific articles and three books, The Memory Cure; How to Protect Your Brain Against Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s Disease and The New York Times Crosswords to Keep Your Brain Young: The 6-Step Age-Defying Program and Boost Your Brain; The New Art + Science Behind Enhanced Brain Performance. He warned of “the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and stress.”
“Walk six miles a day,” he said on a TV appearance. “Try to smile as much as you can.”
Fotuhi also became an entrepreneur, founding the NeurExpand Brain Center in 2011, which offered testing and “brain fitness,” short term memory tune-ups in particular. The center closed in 2015 after Medicare announced that it would no longer cover treatments there. Fotuhi said at the time that Medicaid was even grumbling about seeking reimbursement for past payments.
As detailed by his resume, the same month NeurExpand closed, Fotuhi became founder and medical director of NeuroGrow Brain Fitness Center, which he described as a “neurology practice dedicated to giving cutting edge treatments.”
“More than 80 percent of my patients who have mild cognitive impairment, post-concussive syndrome, dizziness, vertigo, migraine, or attention deficit disorder see remarkable improvements within weeks of starting my multi-disciplinary treatment protocols,” his website reported.
In April of 2016, Fotuhi became chief medical officer of Neurocore, whose principal financial backers are Betsy DeVos and her husband, Dick DeVos. The New York Times has reported that Neurocore was founded by a psychologist who also has a master’s degree in theology. It was originally called Hope 139, a reference to Psalm 139, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me…”
The religious reference had been dropped and Neurocore had opened seven centers in DeVos’s Michigan and one in Florida, with another scheduled to open there later this year. Neurocore’s claim of successful treatments would make it even more effective than NeurExpand.
A recent article in The New York Times cited a number of medical experts who say the treatment is only a placebo that rouses unrealistic hopes and diverts resources from more promising approaches. The Times found that “a review of Neurocore’s claims and interviews with medical experts suggest its conclusions are unproven and its methods questionable.”
Neither a company spokesman nor Fotuhi responded to multiple requests for comment about his background and about Neurocore. A receptionist said that Fotuhi was “with a patient now, but I will be sure to tell him” when The Daily Beast called one afternoon. Fotuhi never returned the call.
Betsy DeVos has said that she will resign from the Neurocore board if her nomination is confirmed—as it may be on Tuesday, perhaps with a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence—though she intends to maintain her investment, estimated to be worth as much as $25 million. She has said nothing about the immigration ban, even though Neurocore’s medical director hails from one of the proscribed seven countries.
Meanwhile, the newest Neurocore brain fitness center is slated to open a 20-minute drive from the new Winter White House, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. Trump is forever watching television anyway and who knows, maybe the skeptics are wrong and the Neurocore method can treat a condition that an intelligence official, who asked not be named for all the obvious reasons, suggests Trump evidences at least some symptoms of suffering during briefings.
Of course, the intelligence briefer is only offering a layman’s diagnosis when he says simply, “ADHD!” And, Trump would not likely pull a cap full of sensors over his elaborate coif. He also would not likely focus in the first place unless the video was about him. If it was about him, he would not likely lose his focus.
On top of that, the treatments are overseen by an Iranian immigrant who reportedly got out by dressing as mullah and using a fake visa.
Anyway, our president already has a perfect brain.
Just ask him.