I just saw the movie, Concussion. It is the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, and his discovery of the terrible disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease in retired NFL players. CTE is caused by repetitive head injuries by a buildup of proteins, called tau, in the brain. This disease can occur in all high impact sports, not just football. However, the release of the movie Concussion has brought the issue, as well as Dr. Omalu, to center stage. Symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.
Recently, Dr. Omalu made news again when he stated that OJ Simpson suffers from CTE. While CTE cannot actually be confirmed until an autopsy on the brain is conducted after a person’s death, Dr. Omalu believes that Simpson is more likely than not suffering from CTE. In fact, Dr. Omalu said, “I would bet my medical license on it.”
Anyone over the age of 30 will remember O.J. Simpson from the infamous televised murder trial that took place in 1995. For those under the age of 30, Simpson was a very famous college and NFL running back in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He later became a TV and movie celebrity. In 1994, he was charged with a gruesome double murder of wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. He was acquitted of the crime but later found responsible in a wrongful death trial by a civil jury (a blog topic for another day).
Simpson’s life continued to spiral out of control long after the criminal and civil cases involving his deceased wife. He repeatedly made the news for completely erratic and irrational behavior. In 2008, Simpson was convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping. In an appeal, a sworn statement included that Simpson suffered, “numerous blows to my head and/or landed on my head violently.” He was denied a new trial from this appeal.
Dr. Omalu’s statement about his belief that OJ Simpson suffered from CTE was not given to defend the ex-football star. It was a warning to all of us about CTE and the health risks that go along with multiple concussions. Brain injuries are a serious matter and can lead to lifelong problems including physical symptoms and behavioral disorders. We can all suffer from concussions in many different ways. Lots of clients I see suffer concussions in car wrecks and premises liability cases. I’ve had clients who suffered concussions when they slipped and fell due to water on the floor at a grocery store, when they were rear ended by a car or truck at a stop light. I’ve even seen clients who suffered concussions when an exterior stairway collapsed at their apartment complex.
In my experience, there is often very little mention of obvious concussions to patients at the ER. I believe this is a mistake. Patients need to know about even minor concussions. Not because they necessarily should be afraid that they will suffer a permanent injury/disease like CTE, or turn into O.J. Simpson. Rather, because patients just need to be aware of the diagnosis.
Studies confirm that second and third concussions compound the injuries and increase the risk of exponentially more harm to the brain. That’s why patients need to be made aware of the fact that they’ve been diagnosed the first time. They can then make better informed choices about activities such as sports or even choices about what type of safety equipment comes on the next vehicle they purchase.