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Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

Mykala Caraccilo and Marissa Schimke, Staff Writers

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What is CTE?

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. In CTE, a protein called Tau forms clumps that slowly spread throughout the brain, killing brain cells. CTE has been seen in people as young as 17, but symptoms do not generally begin appearing until years after the onset of head impacts.

Noah Watkins

“It’s the swelling of the brain due to a hard impact and multiple head injuries,” senior hockey player Noah Watkins said. “It’s a form of tauopathy, and it’s correlated with the tissue in your brain and head. I think it’s a very bad and serious matter, especially when it comes to sports with a lot of impact and concussions.”

The best evidence available tells us that CTE is caused by repetitive hits to the head over a sustained period of years. Repetitive meaning not a handful of concussions, but hundreds or thousands of head impacts over the course of many years playing contact sports or serving in the military. Not just regular concussions though, sub-concussive impacts.

“I think that there’s still a lot to learn about CTE and we need to do more research,” senior football player Tyler Kobulnicky said.

Tyler Kobulnicky

Sub-concussive impacts are those that are below the concussion threshold, where the brain is shaken, but not so violently that there’s enough damage to see symptoms. Over time these sub-concussive hits can hurt our memory and attention, damage the

Jeff DaMetz

connections in our brain, suppress brain function, and could later contribute to behavioral problems.

“In our class, we bring in articles and talk about concussions by presenting different information about them,” science teacher Jeff DaMetz said. “Everything is very straight forward when teaching about this.”

 

NFL

According to SportsIllustrated.com, a new study by Boston University researcher Dr. Ann McKee examined the brains of 202 deceased football players. It was found that 110 of 111 former NFL players, 99%, had CTE. Out of all 202 brains, to include high school and professional players from ages 23 to 89, CTE was found in 117 of them. The brains were from all positions including 44 linemen, 10 linebackers, 17 defensive backs, 7 quarterbacks.

“From a spectator’s standpoint, I’ve been involved with football all my life and these players and athletes put their hearts and lives into sports and little action is taken to make sure these men are properly protected and equipped,” junior football player Konner McQuillan said.

Konner McQuillan

Former New England Patriots star, Aaron Hernandez, had a very severe case of CTE. Dr. Ann McKee, the director of CTE center, said Hernandez had stage 3 (out of 4) of this disease, which can cause violent mode swings, cognitive disorders, and depression.

“We’re told it was the most severe case they had ever seen for someone of Aaron’s age,” Hernandez’s attorney, Jose Baez, said.

Hernandez was 27 when he killed himself in prison where he was serving a life without parol sentence for murder. Baez said that this behavior could have been because of his undiagnosed CTE.

“You can’t prevent it, but you need to at least make sure they’re protected to an extent. They’re putting their future on the line just to play a game, and in the NFL, in the past years, little to nothing has been done to fix it,” McQuillan concluded.

After everything that’s been brought to attention recently, for the first time, the National Football League has publicly acknowledged a connection between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). They will continue to make changes when it comes to player safety, making improvements in equipment and focussing on the concussion issue.

“We want the facts, so we can develop better solutions,” Brian McCarthy, a league spokesman said. “And that’s why we’re deeply committed to advancing medical research on head trauma, including C.T.E., to let the science go where the science goes. We know the answers will come as this field of study continues to advance.”

NFL’s current concussion policy is implemented in stages. The first stage is “Preseason”. This is when players and team staff should be educated on concussions before the season, as well as take a baseline nuerological exam. The second stage is “In-Game Identification”. This protocol creates two positions specifically to aid in identifying and diagnosing concussions, an unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant and booth ATC.

Mackenzie Lillich

“I’ve has three concussions, one was major and the other two were minor,” sophomore cheerleader Mackenzie Lillich said. “I got them from cheer, and I had headaches and was really dizzy most of the time. I could not keep things straight.”

The third stage is “In-Game Evaluation”. In this stage it is stated that if a player shows or reports concussion symptoms, it is mandatory that he is removed from the game and evaluated. If a player is diagnosed with a concussion, that player must leave the field and is not permitted to return until medically cleared. The fourth and final stage of the concussion policy is “Post-Game”. It simply states that the player must be monitored daily and may not return to football activities until he has been cleared by a team doctor and an Independent Neurological Consultant.

“The NFL has been a leader on health and safety in many ways, and we’ve made some real strides in recent years,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodwill wrote in a letter addressed to the fans. “But when it comes to addressing head injuries in our game, I’m not satisfied, and neither are the owners of the NFL’s 32 clubs. We can and will do better.”

Lansing

Lansing’s policy for concussions is: If there  is a sign of a concussion, check with Julie Ascher and take the baseline test (SCAT3). There are different scores to receive on the test. If you get a score in the 70s, or anything else deemed low, you should see a doctor and they will prescribe

Julie Ascher

medication as well as how long you’ll need to wait before returning to sports.

Colton Carney

“If concussed you have to go through a “return-to-play” process and avoid physical activity until you have no symptoms,” physical trainer Ascher said.  “Concussions are rare for most activities and most common in sports.

Because CTE has recently been put in the spotlight more, Lansing is making an effort to inform more students about the disease.

“In human body systems, we learned about what it is, how it’s caused, what it does to your brain, and how you can find out if you have it,” senior track and cross country runner Colton Carney said.

It is in this class, Human Body Systems, taught by Jeff DaMetz and Zac Craig, that they are teaching students more about CTE and what it is.

“We watch the movie Concussion and head games which is really good for learning about concussions,” human body systems teacher and weight room coach Craig said. “Presenting different articles and videos informs our student enough.”

Zac Craig

Natalie Barrett

Throughout Lansing there has been a variety of students who have suffered from concussions.

“Before my fourth concussion I rarely had problems with headaches, but after it happened I was diagnosed with chronic migraines,” senior gymnast and cheerleader Natalie Barrett said. “I also wore glasses before my fourth concussion, but was prescribed a new pair due to my eye sight worsening from the concussions. I hit the back of my head, which is believed to be why my eye sight has decreased.”

Similar to Barrett, junior football player Nate Wilson has also suffered from a concussion.

Nathen Wilson

“I got my concussion last year while playing against Bonner Springs in a football game,” Wilson says. “During the play I got my feet knocked out from under me and hit the back of my head on the ground. I got an intense headache, dizziness, felt dazed, and the sound and light bothered me.”

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Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)