As the national discussion about brain health in athletics intensifies, a new chilling detail has emerged about the February suicide of BMX legend Dave Mirra: According to a new exclusive report by ESPN The Magazine, Mirra’s wife has revealed he was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when he decided to take his own life, making him the first action sports star ever diagnosed with the disease.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy has been making headlines for years after it was discovered by Dr. Bennet Omalu in the early 2000’s in the brains of former NFL football players (which was popularized in the recent Will Smith film Concussion).
The disease, which is caused by repeated blows to the head, is a progressive degenerative brain disease that can cause severe cognitive disabilities and mood swings and has been linked to heightened rates of severe depression.
Per ESPN The Magazine’s report, a postmortem examination of Mirra’s brain was remarkably similar to those of former football and hockey players.
“I couldn’t tell the difference,” Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, a neuropathologist who performed the examination, told the magazine. “The trauma itself defines the disease, not how you got the trauma.
“It’s assumed it is related to multiple concussions that happened years before [the suicide]. It validates what we have been thinking about brain injuries in boxers and football players … The key is brain injury. Regardless of how you get it, through BMX or hockey, you are at risk for this.”
Mirra’s widow, Lauren Mirra, noted that prior to his tragic suicide, she had started to notice changes in the BMX legend’s demeanor that were consistent with CTE.
“He was always a really intense person. His intensity just started to increase,” Lauren Mirra told the Magazine. “For sure last summer, I started to notice changes in his mood. And then it quickly started to get worse.
“The last couple months before he died were really intense, and then, of course, the last couple weeks were hard. We didn’t know what we were dealing with.”
“Fatigue, definitely, both physically and emotionally. And forgetfulness, moodiness,” she continued. “He was lost … I remember seeing him sitting on our bed one day, in the last month of his life. I had just gotten out of the shower and saw him hunched over with the blankest lost look.
“I sat down next to him and held his hand. I said, ‘What is wrong? Are you OK?’ And he just shrugged his shoulders. He couldn’t even speak. He didn’t know.”
Per ESPN’s exclusive story, Mirra’s family is hoping that if anything, the revelation of Mirra’s brain condition can bring about some much needed change in the action sports community.
“This is the beginning of bringing awareness, of talks of better equipment. It would be amazing if this is something we can detect in life one day,” Lauren Mirra told ESPN the Magazine.
“If we can detect it, prevent it, stop it, let’s do all of the above.”
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