Tuesday, December 10 2013 1:08 PM EST2013-12-10 18:08:06 GMT
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Lisa McHale donated her husband's brain to scientists studying the effects of trauma on the brain of athletes.
"In all the years that tom was struggling it never occurred to us in a million years it had anything to do with injuries he sustained playing football."
After 9 years in the NFL, Tom battled depression and abused painkillers. He died of a drug overdose at 45. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine found he had chronic traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. The disease is found in people with a history of repeated brain trauma. Now new study shows the disease may initially affect a person's behavior or mood or memory and thinking skills.
"There is this development of an abnormal protein in the brain that eventually gets worse and worse, destroying brain tissue and those symptoms can result in full blown dementia," says Dr. Robert Stern.
Scientists looked at the brains of 36 male athletes diagnosed with CTE after death. The researchers interviewed family members and reviewed the athletes medical records.
"One of the primary goals is to diagnose this disease during life. hopefully we can understand how common it is, how to treat it and how to prevent it."
Lisa says the changes in Tom were gradual, starting with mood, then behavior then memory.
"He was having real difficulty with depression and that seemed to be really shocking in Tom cause he was someone so full of life."
Lisa now works with researchers and other families to raise awareness for this debilitating disease.
CTE is very similar to Alzheimer's disease. Researchers hope their findings will lead to new ways to help differentiate between the two diseases.