A former boxer, incurable brain disease and new medical research

Over 140 attendees appeared for a lecture about Alzheimer’s disease at California Baptist University on September 14, according to the RMC Charitable Foundation who organized the event. Dr. Dean Sherzai and Dr. Ayesha Sherzai spoke on the disease itself, prevention, treatment and caregiving. Useful questions which might normally require a doctor visit showed the curiosity of individuals about their mental and physical wellbeing, as well as the usefulness of having a medical education. But not all questions that were raised for the doctors were related to this disease. Among questions about stoke, a healthy lifestyle and the obligatory question, “What do you guys think about medical marijuana?” asked by one of the younger crowd-members, there was an inquiry about another disease.

Sandy S., 73, asked, “Do you know anything about chronic traumatic encephalopathy?”

The room was quieter. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE, pugilistic dementia or “punch-drunk syndrome,” is a progressive, degenerative disease which often leads to aggressive behavior, confusion or errors of judgement, loss of memory, rage and intense mood swings. It is undetectable by CT scans and X-rays and cannot be confirmed until the brain is studied and tested under a microscope – in other words, until the patient has already died. This is the illness which Sandy S. and Donna Beagle suspect that their friend and brother, Mr. Gilbert King, has.

Sandy, who asked that her last name not be used, says that she “found” Mr. King one day while at Chase Bank. King was apparently having difficulty communicating with the bank Teller and making loud disruptions when Sandy stepped in. She went outside to find that King had left a taxi driver waiting outside, running the meter and charging for all the time King had spent inside the Bank.


Photo by BoxRec.com, ‘Gil King’

King was a star welterweight boxer in the 1960s and 70s. Anyone who saw Mr. King would have to conclude that he is in excellent physical health. King’s sister, Donna Beagle said that Gilbert King could do a thousand push-ups, easy.

“–And that was for warm up,” she told me.

In the last five years, though, King has suffered the Alzheimer-like symptoms of CTE. He is able to take care of himself in basic ways, but suffers digressions of confusion, aggressive behavior and has someone stationed outside his room 24/7 at a care facility in San Bernardino.

Sandy’s description of the search for a care facility that would keep Mr. King was long and assiduous. King was moved from one facility to the next, staying only for as long as 3 months at a time in the same facility and once, he stayed for only one day, Sandy told me.

Unfortunately, there is no cure or even real treatment to improve the situation of patients who have CTE. Medical evidence that the disease existed was only published about a decade ago, in 2005, after a popular Philadelphia football player, Mike Webster, stumped doctors in his death.

Last week, new research came out supporting a method for detecting CTE in the brain, according to STAT reporter Eric Boodman. The method was discovered by concussion researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and is an injection of radioactive fluid that flows up to the brain and identifies the areas where the toxic protein, tau, is causing degeneration. The protein Tau has been known to build up around blood vessels and in the valleys of the cortical folds in the brain in patients with CTE. This method marks progress, but is high stakes and is unfortunately not a cure for the disease, only a way to diagnose it.
Research is getting somewhere, but the question remains: What is to be done for former athletes who are suspected to suffer from severe CTE, especially if they are considered a danger to themselves and society?


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