Probert diagnosis puts focus on stopping concussions

March 3, 2011 3:25:00 PM PST
The late Chicago Blackhawks player Bob Probert asked that his brain to be donated to science after his death last July. Now it has been revealed that the veteran of 16 seasons suffered from the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the same disease that former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson was concerned about when he took his life last month.

The diagnosis brings more focus into preventing concussions at every age level in sports.

Probert was the heavyweight champ of the NHL for much of the 1980's and 90's. But, by absorbing punishing blows and dealing with the bump and grind that is professional hockey, perhaps it is not surprising that researchers found Probert had the degenerative brain-wasting disease CTE, the condition implicated in the death of Duerson, and which was present in the brain of WWE wrestler Chris Benoit, who spiraled out of control and killed his wife and son.

Dr. Jeff Mjaanes, of the Rush University Sports Medicine Clinic, sees a lot of adolescents in his practice but also professional athletes. He says what is now known about concussions is far beyond even the knowledge base of five years ago.

"We think that yes, there is a disturbance to the electrical stimuli within the brain and impulses in the brain, but we don't know exactly the pathophysiology of a concussion," said Dr. Mjaanes. "They have a constellation of symptoms like headaches, dizziness, feeling in a fog, feeling things aren't quite right, emotionality, so more depressed, sadder than normal, more anxious than normal."

Probert's widow says the athlete told her he probably sustained a dozen concussions in his career -- things he shrugged off at the time as "bell ringers to the head."

The NHL has taken outlawed shots to the head that were until recently considered just good tough hockey. Like football, where a ban to headshots went into effect this past season, there is awareness about the effect of concussions -- and their perhaps deadly effect.

At Twin Rinks in Buffalo Grove, the coach of Stevenson High School's junior varsity hockey team has come up with a device similar to those used in packaging and shipping that can be calibrated for athletes of different sizes and ages that can show if a concussion-inducing hit has been sustained.

"It is that awareness, and the parents are very excited that, you know, knowing that hey, my kid is ok," said coach Tim Johnannes.

Johannes says three times the indicator has turned red this year for members of his team -- and subsequent medical examination confirmed a second degree concussion in the player.

The device is just a tool. It is not FDA approved, but it is an example of how concussion awareness is growing, and perhaps the market is responding