Former National Football League wide receiver Chris Henry died last year after either jumping or falling out of a truck and sustaining head injuries.
Neurosurgeon Julian Bailes and medical examiner Bennet Omalu, co-directors of the Brain Injury Research Institute at West Virginia University, recently performed a microscopic tissue analysis of Henry's brain and state that the acute traumatic injuries cited by the autopsy should be distinguished from the underlying condition that really killed Henry.
The doctors point to chronic traumatic encephalopathy ("CTE"), a chronic brain injury caused by multiple head blows. A diagnosis of CTE is not dependent on finding any history of concussion, and Henry was never diagnosed with a concussion during his collegiate or professional football career.
The NFL has increasingly focused its attention on concussions and brain injuries the past few years, given the game's high number of helmet-to-helmet collisions and other high-impact blows to players' heads. The league has in fact commissioned a study, which found that retired NFL players have a higher rate of Alzheimer's disease and memory problems than do members of the general public.
Henry's life was well documented for off-field behavioral episodes. Bailes' and Omalu's research indicates that this shouldn't be surprising, given that CTE triggers certain neurobehavioral symptoms, which often include troubled relationships with others, drug and alcohol use, and depression.
Bailes states that he and Omalu have examined the brains of 27 athletes, with the majority of them showing evidence of CTE. "I think football is a great sport," Bailes says, "and we want to make it safer." He states that finding ways to reduce head blows will help achieve that.
Related Resource: Associated Press "WVU doctors: Chris Henry had chronic brain injury" June 28, 2010