Eleven months ago high school senior Austin Trenum committed suicide in his bedroom, just two days after experiencing concussion-like symptoms following a Friday night football game. His parents firmly believe there is a connection, according to an Associated Press story.
Austin had had "his bell rung" in football games before. His parents thought nothing unusual of his "grogginess" after his last game, but they took him to a hospital anyway. They were told to watch for bleeding and have Austin rest. Two days later he was dead.
Austin and his family have no history of depression. The popular student was in the top six percent of his class and was planning to attend college. His parents were stunned by his suicide and were looking for answers.
They donated Austin's brain to Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy(CSTE). CSTE does brain research on, among other things, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE),
a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.
According to the AP article,
CSTE found that Austin had a multifocal axonal injury — structural damage to the brain. Among the areas affected was the portion of the brain that affects judgment and impulse control. The doctors can't say for sure why Austin killed himself, but there is strong circumstantial evidence.
"We know that a concussion can be followed with depression," said Dr. Robert Cantu, clinical professor of neurosurgery and co-director of the center. "And depression can be serious enough that hospitalization is required in a small number of cases. We also know that in his brain there were structural abnormalities — and (we are) clearly very concerned that there was cause and effect because of that. Do I know it with 100 percent certainty? No. Can I put what percent certainty I know it at? No. Do I think it's more likely that not? Yes."
Austin's father, Gil, is a member of the Prince William County (Virginia) School Board and has since worked to implement new guidelines for all athletes at the county's schools:
New return-to-play criteria. Concussion training for trainers. A seminar that includes an eye-opening video, with attendance mandatory for students and their parents as a prerequisite for participating in any sport, not just football.
Says Austin's mother Michelle,
“... with Austin, we would like his legacy to be that other people were helped, that other parents don't have to go through this, that other teammates realize when a teammate has a traumatic brain injury, they realize it and bring it to the attention of the coach."