A year or so ago I was injured in a home accident and I was thrown to the floor in my study. I cracked my head on the floor, which is cement covered by a carpet. For some time I have had complications which are attributable to having suffered from a concussion. It hasn’t been dramatic, but it is clear to several of my doctors that some of the symptoms of recent maladies may be directly related to the crack to my head, including dizziness and vertigo, for which it was necessary to receive therapy.
I’m lucky…but it’s more than luck. I am fortunate not to have suffered from a series of head traumas which are common in other peoples’ experience…especially those friends who have participated in contact sports.
This has been a topic of conversation in my household for several years, given my wife’s profession in dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. We both have been drawn to magazine articles, newspaper accounts, and TV/online reports which have spelled out what is commonly accepted in medical circles…that constant or regular damage to the brain through contact sports can result in early and dramatic cases of dementia, leading to death. It is only recently that the medical profession has published specific results of scientific tests and research to this effect.
Last night my wife and I attended a showing of the film Concussion ,which stars Will Smith in the true life story of Dr. Bennet Omalu. ** He is the brilliant forensic pathologist/neuropathologist who discovered and documented dramatic cases of NFL players who contracted dementia as a direct result of repeated blows to the head during their football careers. He and others have identified a recognized medical condition called CTE: chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It is a condition created by severe hits to the head. His study was published in professional medical journals and has met with huge resistance from the NFL community comparable to the NRA response to gun legislation. The medical community is taking it seriously…and parents of young children should also.
The film is not a “feel good” movie. To the contrary, it is sobering and, in some ways, frightening. Any parent who sees this film will want to go home and evaluate whether their child will be permitted to play a contact sport…especially football. Studies are also including such sports as soccer (heading), lacrosse, and hockey, where such head trauma is common.
In the context of the film, Dr. Omalu points out that the human brain is not naturally protected from sharp blows to the head. Some animals for whom such blows are normal (such as the woodpecker) have built-in shock absorbers in their anatomy. But when the human brain is subjected to repeated severe blows to the head, damage is dramatic and potentially fatal. Concussions are treated (many times) as ordinary, and to be expected. It is not ordinary or casual.
I was overwhelmed with the wonderful acting of Will Smith and others in the cast. It is a movie which deservedly is being mentioned for Oscar awards. It should be. But it probably won’t win the award if those who disagree with Dr. Omalu have their way. It is amazing how anti-science rears its ugly head when dollars are threatened. The NFL is a huge economic entity. Despite their ability to take on the findings of the scientists like Dr. Omalu and participate in more effective ways to prevent concussions, the backers of professional football have waged war against him. Emails, phone calls, personal confrontations, and even death threats have saddened him and put his life on the line. However, he continues his study and practice in California.
It’s a movie worth seeing. Bring your middle school kids!
Photo Credit: Brain Injury Pictures
**We met Dr. Omalu a number of years ago and he is a good friend of our daughter, one of his former colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh.