Entries in Brain Injury (8)


Junior Seau's Death: Is There a Brain Injury Link? 

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The circumstances coming to light about the death of former NFL linebacker Junior Seau may highlight what some doctors see as a growing link between head trauma, mental illness and suicide, a connection that has come to the forefront of sports safety research in the last decade.

Seau was found dead from a gunshot wound to the chest at his home in Oceanside, Calif., Wednesday morning.

If Seau did indeed commit suicide, his death would bear a resemblance to that of other athletes in hard-hitting sports, including Chicago Bears football player Dave Duerson. Duerson shot himself in the chest in February of last year.

Seau played in the NFL for 20 years for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. On Wednesday, Chargers Chaplain Shawn Mitchell told ABC News that Seau died of a "self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest this morning." Seau was 43 and leaves behind three children and an ex-wife, Gina Deboer.

The Chargers released a statement to ABC News' San Diego affiliate: "Everyone at the Chargers is in complete shock and disbelief right now. We ask everyone to stop what they're doing and send their prayers to Junior and his family."

The case may be similar to that of Duerson, who left a note requesting his brain be sent to the "NFL brain bank" for study.

Several former NFL players have committed suicide in recent years, and many experts believe the deaths could be related to repeated blows to the head. In addition to Duerson, ex-Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Terry Long and Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Andre Waters took their own lives. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative and progressive disease found in people who have experienced multiple blows to the head, has shown up in the brains of several former athletes who committed suicide, including Duerson's.

CTE has similar brain features to that of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's disease.

Last May, Dr. Ann McKee, co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, a research center that studied Duerson's brain after his death, told reporters that Duerson "had classic pathology of CTE and no evidence of any other disease," ESPN reported at the time.

"Exactly how the brain damage causes mood disturbance is not clear," said Dr. John Whyte, director of the Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute in Philadelphia, who does not know Seau's medical history. "There could be biological changes going on, or changes in the neurotransmitters that affect mood, or it could be a psychological factor that this brain injury has disrupted work and family life so much that it has really changed your life."

Until more research has been done, Whyte said the public should not jump to conclude a definitive link between concussions that Seau may have experienced in his career and death. But repeated blows to the head may also damage parts of the brain that have to do with impulse control and the ability to weigh the long-term consequences of decisions.

A concussion is caused when the brain is shaken so hard that it hits the inside of the skull, resulting in brain trauma. Studies have contributed to the growing concern over head injuries, particularly concussions, in football and other contact sports.

For reasons that remain unclear to experts, having one concussion makes a person more prone to further concussions. According to a study published in Neurosurgery last year, American football players who sustained three or more concussions were significantly more likely to develop depression and were five times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

According to statistics from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, about 47 percent of high school football players sustain at least one concussion each season. And 35 percent of those who reportedly suffered from a concussion actually sustained two or more in the same season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 2 million brain injuries are suffered by teenage players every year.

While there is more concern over players and suicide, Whyte said sports are likely becoming less dangerous because of all the research being devoted to safety guidelines, proper equipment and the aftermath of a career of brain injuries.

In 2009, the NFL instituted new rules that require clearance from independent neurologists to allow players who suffered concussions to return to the field. The league also imposed stricter guidelines to reduce the number of helmet-to-helmet hits.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New York Football Player Ridge Barden Dies of On-Field Brain Injury

BananaStock/Thinkstock(PHOENIX, N.Y.) -- A teen athlete who collapsed at a football game in Phoenix, N.Y., died of bleeding in the brain unleashed by forceful bodily contact on the field, according to an autopsy released Sunday.

Ridge Barden, 16, toppled onto the field Friday during the third quarter of the game between his Phoenix High School and Homer High School, reported ABC's Syracuse, N.Y., affiliate, WSYR-TV, which has read the autopsy report. It has not been officially released.

"It's still shocking. He was with us and now he's gone," his mother, Jacqueline Barden, told WSYR-TV.

Her 230-pound, sports-loving son's accidental death, nonetheless, amplifies the acknowledged challenges of safeguarding the health of student athletes nationwide.

Head injuries have attracted a singular attention of late. New York State lawmakers, for example, approved a Concussion Management Awareness Act this year. For every school district, it mandates concussion management teams comprised of sports staff, health, and other professionals.

The Florida High School Athletics Association, as another example, has ordered new rules aimed at keeping athletes suspected of having endured a concussion from returning to play without a doctor's formal clearance.

Members of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, by law, must implement policies to minimize brain injuries, including concussion awareness training.

Barden said her child, who had been playing sports since Little League, had no pre-existing medical problems.

Stunned by his collapse, the lineman's teammates encircled him as soon after he fell onto the field, following what was reported as an especially hard hit by one of his team's opponents.

Trainers and coaches rushed over to find him talking, able to roll over on his back by himself and sit up, said Phoenix School District Superintendent Judy Belfield. Still, he complained of a severe headache and buckled again when he tried to stand, she said.

An outpouring of grief, condolences and support for his family has spread online. "R.I.P. Ridge Barden," reads a Facebook page.

His grieving mother told WSYR-TV she hopes no one feels he is fault in this tragedy. Ridge, she said, "would feel the same way."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Sidney Crosby Says Concussion Won’t Knock Him Out of NHL

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images(PITTSBURGH) -- Pittsburgh Penguins hockey star Sidney Crosby won’t be taking the ice again until after he recovers fully from concussion-like symptoms brought about by repeated blows to the head last season, ESPN reported. The symptoms have kept him from playing since January.

During a news conference Thursday, the 24-year-old former MVP attempted to quell speculation that he would not return to the game but emphasized that he would not play again until symptoms, including “fogginess” and migraines, improve.

“Maybe I can get by with 90 percent, maybe I couldn’t but I’m not going to roll the dice with that,” he told reporters.

Crosby is the latest professional athlete to struggle with head trauma, and his case brings yet more attention to the debate about what needs to be done to protect these athletes from concussions.

Indeed, the story comes on the same day as an NPR report on the new NFL safety rules that will go into effect with the first kickoff of the season Thursday night, even as some fans argue that attempts to control the hard hits will detract from the game.

Voices urging more protection for players are growing louder, however. The suicide of Nashville Predators star Wade Belak last month, the third death in recent months of a hard-hitting NHL enforcer in which suicide was suspected, sparked speculation that the long-term effects of head trauma might be to blame.

Former pro football player Dave Duerson committed suicide in February by shooting himself in the chest. He requested in a suicide note that his brain be sent to the NFL brain bank for study. In May, researchers found that his brain did indeed show evidence of head trauma.

And it’s not just suicides. The father of 22-year-old Derek Sheely, starting fullback for the Frostburg State University Bobcats in Western Maryland, suspects that a brain injury was to blame for his son’s death earlier this month.

Professional sports organizations are starting to recognize the problem. The National Football League began hanging posters in locker rooms last season that describe symptoms of concussions and, for the first time, warning players and their coaches of the potential long-term consequences. And the latest offering from the popular Madden NFL video game franchise even has a feature that will take a virtual player out of the game if he experiences a concussion, an addition developers say they hope will bring the serious consequences of head trauma home for young fans.

But cases such as Crosby’s suggest that more needs to be done to protect young athletes from concussions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


College Football Player Dies; Brain Injury Suspected

Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) -- The death of 22-year-old Derek Sheely, starting fullback for the Frostburg State University Bobcats in West Maryland, has once again hoisted concussions in contact sport to the fore.

Sheely died Sunday at the University of Maryland's R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore less than a week after he collapsed at football practice between routine drills. The cause of Sheely's death is unclear, but his father Kenneth suspects a brain injury was to blame.

"It doesn't really matter how it happened, personally. It's not going to change the situation with Derek. But I want to let it be known that he didn't have some kind of heart condition or other kind of condition. It was severe head trauma," Kenneth Sheely told The New York Times.

Sheely had uncontrollable brain swelling, the Times reported, which may have been caused by successive concussions leading to second impact syndrome.

"It's very rare, but when it occurs it can be deadly," said Dr. Steven Flanagan, professor of rehabilitation medicine and chairman of NYU Langone Medical Center's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. "Someone returns to play too soon after a concussion and sustains another, seemingly mild concussion. But the response the brain has is to have this uncontrollable, malignant swelling."

Second impact syndrome is especially rare in adults, Flanagan said, and more common in children and teens. It is unclear whether Sheely sustained multiple head injuries leading to second impact syndrome.

Brain injuries in contact sport, particularly football, have garnered much attention in recent months. A class-action lawsuit filed in July by seven former National Football League players claims the league failed to treat concussions and tried to conceal the link between football and brain injuries.

An estimated 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention, and about 75 percent of those injuries are considered "mild," or concussions. But so-called mild brain injuries are still brain injuries nonetheless.

Evidence to support the cumulative effects of repeated mild brain injuries is mounting. One study found that professional football players and boxers had features of Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease -- chronic, debilitating neurological diseases.

As the NFL takes action to limit the risk of concussions and their long-term consequences, college, high school and little leagues are following suit.

"Most of these players are going to have careers in something else -- long lives of working and using their brains," said Dr. Alan Hoffer, assistant professor of neurological surgery and neurocritical care at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. "We really should be trying to make sure there are no brain injuries."

In July, Ivy League football teams announced plans to limit contact during practices to cut back collision time. And more schools are using concussion screening programs to compare players' brain function after a hit to baseline measurements taken pre-season.

"A brain injury is not like an ankle or knee injury; you can't tape it up," said Dr. Allen Sills, a neurologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Sports Concussion Center. "Really, you can't play with a partial brain injury."

Only 10 percent of concussions lead to a loss of consciousness, according to Dr. Sills. And competitive players often feel compelled to play through the commoner, subtler symptoms like fatigue, headache and nausea.

Improvements in equipment can reduce concussion risk but will never eliminate it. "Certainly we know that these are important factors," said Sills. "But helmets are never going to prevent concussions any more than seatbelts are going to prevent car accidents."

Similarly, stricter return-to-play guidelines and limitations on contact during practices will make sports safer, but not completely safe.

Sheely was a senior history and political science major and two-year All-Atlantic Central Football Conference all-academic honoree, according to a Frostburg State spokeswoman. He will be posthumously awarded a bachelor of science degree in liberal studies, cum laude.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Teen Boxing Is Too Dangerous, Doctors Say

Photos dot com/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Youth boxing may be too risky, doctors say.  The amount of risks presented by the sport is simply too great, according to a policy statement released by pediatrician groups in the U.S. and Canada.

"Children and adolescents should not be participating in boxing because of the risk of head and facial injuries," statement co-author Laura Purcell, MD says, according to WebMD.

Previous research has proven that brain injury is the biggest risk posed by boxing, with more than half of boxing injuries being concussions, WebMD reports.

Purcell tells WebMD, "There is no evidence that headgear prevents concussions."

Because children's brains are more susceptible to physical harm such as concussions, pediatricians are urging health care professionals to "vigorously oppose boxing for any child or adolescent," citing longer recovery in children.

And doctors are not only worried about risk of brain and facial injury.  The process of "making weight," or any practice employed to qualify for competition in a certain weight class could lead to unhealthy habits of eating or fluid restriction, according to child care physicians.

The two groups, the Canadian Pediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics, joined efforts in authoring the policy statement published in the journal Pediatrics, updating a 1997 statement by U.S. doctors.  The Canadian Pediatric Society is addressing youth boxing for the first time, according to WebMD.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Dementia Risk More than Doubled in Veterans with Brain Injuries

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Veterans who are diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, or TBI, are at a higher risk for developing dementia, according to a new study released Monday.

Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco analyzed the medical records of over 280,000 U.S. veterans at least 55 years old,  searching for diagnoses of TBI and dementia and whether or not there was a link between the two.

They found that about 2 percent of older veterans had a diagnosis of TBI, and that for those who did, the risk of dementia was 2.3 times higher than for those without a TBI diagnosis.

The authors concluded that “the data suggests that TBI in older veterans may predispose them toward development of symptomatic dementia. And [the data] raise[s] concerns about the potential long-term consequences of TBI in younger veterans.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Army Vet Struggles to Receive Brain Treatment as Private Contractor

Courtesy Jennifer Barcklay(SPOKANE, Wash.) -- Jennifer Barcklay, a civilian contractor who was injured by a bomb in Afghanistan, will finally receive therapy for a traumatic brain injury after a nearly two-year fight to get treatment.

While Barcklay, an Army veteran, needed specialized medical treatment after serving her country, she faced two problems: she is a private contractor and not eligible for treatment active duty soldiers can receive, and she lives in Spokane, Washington miles away from hospitals offering that treatment.

On Wednesday, almost two years after she survived a mortar blast in Afghanistan and one year after doctors first recommended cognitive rehabilitation therapy, her insurer agreed to pay for this expensive treatment.  She and her attorney, David Linker, received approval in the form of a letter dated June 15, approving travel arrangements and treatment at a specific facility in California.

After the long waiting period, Barcklay said she has mixed feelings.

"I'm happy that they're finally doing what they're supposed to do, but I'm not sure about the whole process," she said.  "What it put me and my family through was horrible."

Barcklay, 40, worked for defense contractors starting from 2006 after being honorably discharged from the Army in 1996 for a knee injury.  But her insurer, Chartis Insurance, a division of AIG, wouldn't cover her cognitive rehabilitation therapy, as first reported by the Spokesman-Review.

The therapy is an expensive treatment that thousands of U.S. soldiers are receiving.  Those soldiers can usually obtain treatment from Department of Veterans Affairs facilities because they obtained the injuries while on active duty.

Military contractors are often in dangerous war zones but denied medical benefits despite statutory protections.  The Defense Base Act of 1941, in fact, requires defense contractors to provide medical and disability insurance for their employees in war zones.

Barcklay was a civilian helicopter mechanic when she obtained her injuries.  In September 2009, an enemy mortar exploded 10 yards away from her at Forward Operating Base Shank in Afghanistan.  The blast, which severely injured two other people, slammed her into the ground, causing ear trauma, joint pain and, she says, it continues to cause frequent seizures.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Giffords Requests Toast, Some Experts 'Encouraged' by Sign

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(HOUSTON) - Experts are encouraged by the sign that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was able to request toast with her breakfast, yet another advancement in her rehabilitation.

The congresswoman, who was shot in the head at an event outside a Tucson grocery store on Jan. 8, made the request to hospital workers who delivered her meal on Monday at TIRR Memorial Hermann, the Houston rehab center where she is receiving occupational therapy.

"This shows processing and communication of a want or need,” said David W. Lacey, M.D., medical director of neurorehabilitation at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “That is a remarkable advance if this is the first time she has done this. That type of functional gain is important for long-term outcome if it did not exist before."

“If she is asking for toast and is allowed to have that texture, it represents not only self-directed behavior, higher level communication skills but also the ability to probably start to meet her nutritional needs on her own”, said Roger Knackal, medical director of rehabilitation at the University of Vermont. "Her recovery appears to be at an accelerated pace and ahead of the anticipated recovery curve given the limited knowledge we are given about her case.”
Others, however, say it is to early to determine what this may mean for her long-term development.

“It is impossible to interpret what this means regarding her recovery," said Steve Flangan, chairman of the Rusk Institute at NYU.

Giffords was transferred to the Houston rehabilitation facility on Jan. 21.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio