New medical research shows a direct link between football concussions and brain disease.
The study looked at more than 200 brains of deceased athletes, including high school players and ex-NFL players. Nearly all of them showed signs of brain damage.
A Flower Mound high school football player has also learned that the hard way. It was Wyatt Myall's shifting eyes that first gave him away to clinician Matthew Talley with the Cerebrum Health Centers.
“I started to watch different things that I examine with the brain here in the clinic,” Talley explained. “I watched how his eyes were moving. I watched his balance.”
Talley and Myall got to talking at a Flower Mound jiu-jitsu class this summer. The 17-year-old mentioned that he used to play football since he was 8 years old, but he took a hit and had to stop.
“I said, 'Are you struggling with anxiety?' He said, 'Yes.' I said, 'How are your grades?' He said, 'They're plummeting. My grades are horrible,’” recalled Talley.
That hit Myall took was a head-on blackout knockout at a Flower Mound Marcus football practice in May 2016.
FOX 4 flew over the field after he was flown to a hospital, where he was paralyzed for hours before regaining feeling and being told to "just rest,” His MRI was clear. But over the past year, his symptoms have only gotten worse.
“I was still hurting, like I always got headaches every single day,” the high school student said. “Always tired. Wanted a nap every chance I could.”
Talley recognized his symptoms as brain injury and is now leading Myall through therapy at Cerebrum Health Centers in Dallas as a new study on football and brain injuries is published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
A neuropathologist examined the brains of 111 deceased former NFL players and 91 former high school and college athletes. All but one of the NFL players were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. Out of all the 202 players studied, nearly 90 percent of them showed signs of brain disease.
“If you get cut, you obviously see it. If you get an ear infection, you hurt,” said Dr. Brandon Brock. “With CTE, you might not see it for decades.”
The brains were from players ages 23 to 89 that were donated by concerned families. CTE can cause memory loss, confusion, depression and dementia.
Myall recognized his symptoms. The most obvious sign was failing school.
The diagnostics help Talley identify Myall's brain's deficiencies and help him relearn cognitive functions.
“I think we may have altered the trajectory of their future, but we don't know,” Dr. Brock said. “All we know is we have a patient that feels better.”
Myall says his brain injury has been so bad that he couldn't even focus to read clearly. He says he's already seeing improvements in his focus and balance through just two days of this therapy.
The clinicians gave some advice for parents, saying there are many sports out there that aren't as full contact and risky.
Dr. Brock says one of the reasons the study is gaining so much traction is that it acknowledges that there is some "selection bias,” meaning the brains that were studied were donated by families who suspected concussions as a root cause. But he says since most people will never play professional football, often the connection isn't made between brain disease later in life and concussions as a kid.