A professional football player. A city hero. Over two hundred pounds of muscle and athletic ability. So... Why is he worried about getting hit on the field?
In Episode 611, Blink, Seattle quarterback Tom Kates arrives in an ambulance at Seattle Grace-Mercy West with injuries from a terrible tackle on the football field. After linebackers ran him down, Tom suffers from a concussion, left knee injury, and ruptured spleen. After our surgeons perform Tom's splenectomy, the quarterback will be out of the hospital in a couple weeks and ready to return to the field next fall. The athlete should be thrilled... Right? Not at all.
Tom wants out of the game forever. He has a wife and one-year-old baby son he wants to spend the rest of his life with and raise. Tom has seen the physical and mental consequences of other players who have spent an entire career making and enduring forceful tackles. And Tom is not referring to the typical back ache or muscle exhaustion.
In the past year, more and more medical experts have expressed concern for the mental and physical health of football players. Even if a player's career ends in his thirties, studies have shown that due to the amount of trauma inflicted upon the brain inside the skull, mental capabilities have been exceptionally affected. Past players have begun to admit memory loss, newly developed attention disorders, constant headaches, depression, vision problems, impaired balance, and many more.
Players who spent their lives on a football field may have suffered hundreds of concussions. Now the definition of a concussion remains general, in that it is simply an injury to the brain resulting from an impact to the head. Doctors consider concussions "invisible injuries," in that no test or scan (such as an MRI or CT of the head) can detect it. However, they can range from mild forms to quite severe, in which a person may be unconscious and lose their senses for longer periods of time. In order to study a better picture of the damage concussions can cause on the brain, medical research centers have begun extracting brain tissue from deceased and retired professional football players. And what they have found? Is scary.
Researchers have found extensive evidence of brain damage, referred to as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and in some cases, the CTE dates back to when the player was only eighteen years old. The studies show brown tangles throughout the brain, something experts usually see in the brains of the elderly who experience dementia. This damage affects the parts of the brain that control things such as: rage, hypersexuality, breathing, and various emotions. And this damage has also been discovered to be progressive—it continues to kill off healthy brain cells.
Many organizations and centers have begun opening to begin their own research on brains and consequences of playing years of football. Currently, over 100 athletes have given consent to donate their brains to research after they die. Experts and families hope that as more information can be released, others may be educated to be proactive in seeking treatment directly after an injury as well as years to come after retirement.
People do need to remember that concussions present on an individual basis, therefore one instance does not necessarily mean one will forget their families' names years later. However, it is still extremely important to be vigilant about any trauma to the head and attempt to monitor good sleep habits and a healthy lifestyle.
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