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Brain Donation Registry Advances Research into Brain Injuries

img_krugler_bio_1-135x150For all the amazing discoveries made about the human body, our brains are still a mystery. Our minds are as fascinating as they are frustrating to fully understand. This is especially true of brain injury.

Millions of traumatic brain injuries occur every year, but not every TBI is diagnosed as quickly as it should be. The symptoms are subtle and non-specific, so injured individuals sometimes don’t get the immediate treatment brain injury requires.

In recent years, the National Football League has come under fire for its treatment of head injury. For too long, a “mild” form of traumatic brain injury, the concussion, was brushed off. Many players were injured and then returned to the field too soon.

The danger of playing before you’ve fully recovered from a concussion cannot be understated. If a second impact occurs before an athlete is fully recovered the results can be catastrophic. “Second impact syndrome” causes brain swelling, which can lead to brain damage, paralysis or death.

To better diagnose and treat brain injury, more research is desperately needed. In an effort to understand brain injury better, Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center established the Brain Donation Registry in 2008. The center’s stated goal is to advance our understanding of trauma to the brain and spinal cord.

The Center asked former football players and members of the armed forces, two groups with a high risk of brain injury, to leave their brains and spinal cords to the center for study.

More than a dozen athletes, many professional football players, but not all, publicly announced their participation in the study in 2008. These athletes’ public commitment to the cause of understanding brain injury has inspired many others.

Last year, a young man named Michael Keck passed away from a heart condition. Before his death, Keck played two years of college football at Missouri State. At his first training camp in 2009, a concussion left him unconscious on the field. After his injury, Keck suffered headaches, memory and vision problems. His personality also began to change; he was moody, angry and sometimes depressed.

According to Keck’s wife, Cassandra, his conviction that something was wrong with his head was ignored.

‘He told one of the trainers there’s something wrong with his head. They gave him a concussion test and told him to count backward from 20 by threes,’ Cassandra Keck said according to an article on his death. “Some other players couldn’t do it, either. So they just said football players are dumb.”

Michael told his wife that if he passed away, he wanted his brain donated to the Boston University center. When he passed, that’s exactly what his wife did.

Last month, BU announced its findings. Michael Keck had severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in those who suffer repeated brain trauma.

Typically, the worst cases of CTE are found in older individuals that have sustained years of trauma and continued deterioration as they age. (CTE has long been known to affect “punch drunk” boxers.) Keck played for only a short while and was too young for age to be blamed as the culprit for his advanced case.

My partners and I were saddened to learn of Michael Keck’s passing but inspired by his donation. We hope that the work of Boston University and other organizations like it continue to make advances in this vital area of study. Future generations of athletes, the armed forces and everyday people like the clients we represent will all be better served by the knowledge gained today.

-Dave Krugler

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