Tregg Duerson, son of former Bears safety Dave Duerson (above), said he hopes his dad’s death will not be in vain and that his legacy will live on through brain research. | Jonathan Daniel~getty images
Updated: August 6, 2011 12:20AM
Researchers at the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy didn’t announce anything surprising about former Bears safety Dave Duerson’s brain.
Duerson, who committed suicide in February at 50, was suffering from a moderately advanced case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated brain trauma, that likely contributed to his deteriorating condition in recent years.
But what’s alarming is that the VA CSTE Brain Bank, which contains the brains of more than 70 athletes and military veterans, has diagnosed CTE in 14 of the 15 NFL players it has studied.
What compelled Duerson to take his life in February isn’t exactly clear, although his family surely wants to believe CTE symptoms — including memory loss,
headaches and lack of impulse control — played a pivotal role. But what is clear are the painstaking details Duerson followed to save his brain (he shot himself in the chest) and donate it to BU.
“My father was a man of many accomplishments, both on the field and off the field. With these
accomplishments came many battles,” Tregg Duerson said. “It is my greatest hope that his death will not be in vain and, through this research, his legacy will live on.”
Tregg Duerson’s final plea was for the “greater football community” to support CTE research.
Tregg, 25, is absolutely correct.
Football is only growing in popularity, and anyone who has watched the sport for more than a decade can attest to the improvement in everything, including the quality of athletes and coaches.
Fortunately, the NFL isn’t shying away from its responsibility. It donated $1 million to the CSTE and advocated for the passage of the Lystedt Law, initially signed in July 2009 in Washington state to remove any athlete under 18 from practices and games if suspected of suffering a concussion.
Afterward, the athlete isn’t allowed to return to the field until a licensed physician trained in the diagnosis and management of concussions evaluates and provides written medical authorization.
Sixteen states have a version of the Lystedt Law — named after Zackery Lystedt, who suffered a debilitating brain injury after returning too quickly following a concussion — but Illinois isn’t among them.
Neither is Wisconsin nor
Minnesota, although Indiana is one of three states that recently has passed legislation that’s being finalized.
In the meantime, parents and coaches can educate themselves.
The Sports Legacy Institute outlines “Seven Steps for Brain Safety,” while the American Association of Neurological Surgeons has issued “Head Injury Prevention Tips.”
“The guidelines need to be followed more strictly, especially at the high school level because there’s more athletes,” said Dr. Ayman Salem, the neurosurgeon at the Los Angeles Brain & Spine Institute at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles. “With the NFL, there’s a smaller percentage [of athletes].”
And parents of non-football players are not exempt; concussions can happen in many contact sports.
The CSTE is leading the charge in research, and it’s encouraged by discoveries and developments.
“I do think, with so much more to be learned and understood, that we are just beginning to climb that mountain that will lead to effective treatments and, one day, a cure,” CSTE co-director Robert Cantu said.
The biggest challenge, Salem said, is not being able to see the smallest problems.
“We don’t have the means to identify the damage that happens at the cellular level,” Salem said, noting that MRIs can only show damage that’s 3 or 5 millimeters. “That’s the problem.’’
So that means relying on baseline tests, which some NFL players have privately suggested they are intentionally sabotaging.
“The athletes need to be honest with themselves,” Salem said. “If they notice they’re a little off, they have to stop and reassess what they’re doing.
“The exams can’t pick up the subtleties.”
While doctors and researchers work toward more answers, more than 100 NFL players have
promised to donate their brains, and the league will continue its
support of the CSTE.
“We hope these findings will contribute more to the understanding of CTE,” the league said in a statement. “Our Head, Neck and Spine Medical Committee will study today’s findings, and, as a league, we will continue to support the work of the scientists at the Boston University Center and elsewhere to address this issue in a forthright and effective way.”
Then, hopefully, more families won’t have to suffer like the
“It is with mixed emotions that my family and I stand before you today,” Tregg Duerson said Monday. “We have been given the gift of closure.
“We accept this gift with great humility, as we are mindful of other families that have lost loved ones and still bear the burden of