From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle
The mystery behind the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic
encephalopathy (CTE) grew on Wednesday with the release of the brain autopsy
results of former NHL enforcer Todd Ewen.
Family and friends were certain that Ewen – who suffered multiple concussions
during a 518-game career with four teams, and died by suicide in September – had
CTE. But a study by the Toronto-based Canadian Concussion Centre, which has
conducted an in-depth study of his brain the past several months, revealed he
Ewen was 49 years old when he died, and had been experiencing memory loss,
chronic pain, diabetes and depression.
“We were very surprised by the results, as we were sure Todd must have had
CTE,” said Ewen’s wife, Kelli, who donated her husband’s brain to be studied by
the CCC shortly after his death. “We hope that anyone suffering from the effects
of concussion takes heart that their symptoms are not an automatic diagnosis of
CTE. Depression coupled with other disorders can have many of the same symptoms
“These results indicate that, in some athletes, multiple concussions do not
lead to the development of CTE,” said Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, a neuropathologist
who helped conduct the examination of Ewen’s brain with the CCC research team.
“Our findings continue to show that concussions can affect the brain in
This underlines the need to not only continue this research but also be
cautious about drawing any definitive conclusions about CTE until we have more
CTE has become synonymous with former NFL players who have experienced
several deceased NHL players – many of them former fighters – have also been
found to have had CTE.
“Every time it was announced that a fellow player had CTE, Todd would say:
‘If they had CTE, I know I have CTE,’” Kelli Ewen said.
“He was terrified by the thought of a future living with a degenerative
disease that could rob him of his quality of life and cause him to be a burden
to his family.”
It’s not known why some athletes who suffered multiple concussions during
their careers develop CTE while others do not.
Neuropathologists such as Boston University’s Dr. Ann McKee, a leading CTE
expert, theorize that some people might have a genetic predisposition to getting
the disease, while others might have a genetic resistance.
As it is not yet possible to test for CTE in the living, despite advancements
toward that goal, researchers are relying on the slow process of collecting and
analyzing deceased athletes’ brains to learn more.
Including Ewen’s, the CCC has analyzed 20 brains and roughly half have shown
signs of CTE or other neurodegenerative diseases.
The centre was founded by Dr. Charles Tator with the goal of examining 50
donated brains as part of the research project.
“We still need to better understand this disease and the effects of
concussions on the brain in order to figure out how to identify those who will
develop CTE, as well as help people like Todd Ewen who struggle with symptoms
from head injuries,” said Dr. Carmela Tartaglia, a neurologist who was also part
of the CCC research team.
“It’s through these analyses that we hope to find answers.”