A Carolina Hurricanes blog with occasional news about the rest of the NHL.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Concussions in the NHL

Randy Starkman of the The Toronto Star has written a terrific two-part piece on concussions in the NHL. It was brought to my attention via James Mirtle's blog, and I highly recommend that everybody read it.

Part One -- Critical Condition: The human toll of hockey concussions
Part Two -- Players Put Team Over Health

Concussions can lead to longer-term health problems, must notably a proclivity for Alzheimer's disease.
"A University of North Carolina study reported in 2005 that retired NFL players faced a 37 per cent higher risk of Alzheimer's than similarly aged U.S. males. It also found repeated concussions significantly raised the chance they'd suffer dementias such as mild cognitive impairment later in life."
"A neuropathologist who examined former NFL safety Andre Waters' brain after his suicide a year ago said the 44-year-old's brain tissue was that of an 85-year-old man and showed signs of early stage Alzheimer's. Asked once how many concussions he'd had, Waters replied: "I think I lost count at 15."

This is some startling stuff.

One of the symptoms of Alzheimer's and other such dementias is outbursts of violence, even if the patient has no history of violence in their healthy years. Part one of that series by the Star details a horrifying turn of events in the life of former Capitals enforcer Kevin "Killer" Kaminski. The article is a MUST READ.
Kaminski was sidelined with a concussion and...
Megan Kaminski had stopped asking her husband to help with the kids. He'd always been a great partner and incredibly devoted to his little girls, but now he couldn't stand to be around them.

"He'd be mad, he would swear," she said. "It was like living with a complete stranger. He was totally a different person. I couldn't talk to him or rationalize with him. The girls didn't understand anything that was going on with him. It was, `Where's Daddy?'"

But one night she had a deadline to meet for some writing and asked Kevin to get the girls out of the bath and into their pyjamas. She soon found Lexi crying at her office door.

"She said, `Daddy's really mad and he's scaring me.' I was bending down in front of her and the bedroom door opened from our master bedroom and he came flying down the hallway and he picked her up by one hand and he cocked his fist back."
Somehow Megan got her daughter out of harm's way and push the feared enforcer into the walk-in closet in their bedroom.

"We just had this huge screaming match in the closet and then finally he just started crying," she said. "He said, `I can't live like this anymore. I don't know what's wrong with me. I don't who I am.'

"We just sat in that closet and cried. We could hear our daughters standing outside the closet – they were 2 and 4 at the time. They were standing out there, hugging each other, bawling."

Megan called the team's sports psychologist and he came to the Kaminski home immediately. He spent a long time talking with the Kaminskis, explaining to Kevin that he had to stop trying to come back. He told him that if we wanted to know his kids when he got older, he had to stop playing hockey now."

If you look outside hockey, you don't have to look far to see some really horrible things that have happened to former athletes because of concussions.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (aka "Boxer's dementia" aka "punch-drunk syndrome") is a form of dementia, specific to people who have suffered multiple blows to the head.

  • On June 25, 2007, professional wrestler Chris Benoit killed his family, then himself in what was initially deemed a bout of "roid rage". Later, it was ruled to be a result of severe brain damage due to concussions. ABC News reported that
    "The tests, conducted by Julian Bailes of the Sports Legacy Institute, show that Benoit's brain was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer's patient.

    Bailes and his research team say that this damage was the result of a lifetime of chronic concussions and head trauma suffered while Benoit was in the wrestling ring."
  • Andre Waters, formerly a standout safety for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, committed suicide on November 20, 2006. He was posthumously diagnosed with CTE. The neurologists found the exact same thing that was found in Benoit's case.
    The neuropathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pittsburgh, a leading expert in forensic pathology, determined that Mr. Waters’s brain tissue had degenerated into that of an 85-year-old man with similar characteristics as those of early-stage Alzheimer’s victims. Dr. Omalu said he believed that the damage was either caused or drastically expedited by successive concussions Mr. Waters, 44, had sustained playing football.
  • On September 30, 2004, former Pittsburgh Steelers limeman Justin Strzelczyk led New York State troopers on a high speed chase on the interstate highway. He flung beer bottles and wads of cash from his window of his pickup truck as he erratically sped down the wrong way of the interstate, putting hundreds of people in danger's way. (I was actually on that highway in that area that day). Ultimately, a truck driver sacrificed his rig, making a huge "stop stick" out of it. Strzelczyk hit the truck and died instantly. He had been suffering from depression, and as posthumous tests proved, CTE.
    Strzelczyk (pronounced STRELL-zick) is the fourth former National Football League player to have been found post-mortem to have had a condition similar to that generally found only in boxers with dementia or people in their 80s....“This is irreversible brain damage,” Omalu said. “It’s most likely caused by concussions sustained on the football field.”

    Dr. Ronald Hamilton of the University of Pittsburgh and Dr. Kenneth Fallon of West Virginia University confirmed Omalu’s findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition evidenced by neurofibrillary tangles in the brain’s cortex, which can cause memory loss, depression and eventually Alzheimer’s disease-like dementia. “This is extremely abnormal in a 36-year-old,” Hamilton said. “If I didn’t know anything about this case and I looked at the slides, I would have asked, ‘Was this patient a boxer?’ ”

  • In short, repeated concussions have turned the brains of these men in their thirties or forties into mush. Instead of having healthy brains, their brains resemble the brains of men twice their age with dementia.
    Because of concussions.

    Despite the evidence that concussions lead to far worse things down the road, both the NFL and the NHL downplay the medical findings and the reporting of concussions. Colin Campbell has said
    "Some are legitimate. I think some you might find aren't legitimate. ... I think there's a small percentage, not a great percentage, of players who use it as an excuse, `Oh yeah, I've got a concussion.' They can milk it. It's a hard thing to really say that you haven't, you know, if you're trying to get some extra insurance money out of it to get paid an extra year or something.... "

    And more alarmingly, you have players who knowingly put themselves back out on the ice when they shouldn't. As part two of that story accentuates, players and coaches will often weigh the importance of the game versus the health of the player. In a preseason or early season game, a player will leave with a head injury, but late in the season, or in the playoffs, they'll look the other way.

    In game five of the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward was hit in the head "so hard that he didn't know who he was". He left the ice to vomit several times, then came back despite not knowing who he was or where he was. He knew that if he left the game and reported a head injury, he would have to take a baseline test and that he would fail, be diagnosed with a concussion and miss the rest of the series. Carolina missed their chance to win it that night, and needed games six and seven to make it happen. This is an example of the player thinking that the game and the team was far too important for him to sit out. In my opinion, this is lunacy.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    If you were running a business, say with thirty two franchises and one franchise had a staggeringly high success in one area, that the rest are failing at. Wouldn't you investigate diligently and find out why one franchise is doing something so much better than the rest.
    The Patriots have had one concussion this year. The Colts eight documented concussion. Kevin Fauld wears a $10 off the shelf mouth guard, the majority of players, most with prior history of concussion, are fitted with a corrective orthodic retainer like mouth guard. This is the catch 22 the "concussion committee" has imposed on the legal watchdogs of the NFL. Goodell was a lawyer, he needs to do the right thing a protect his players



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