A few weeks ago, I was honored to take a tour of the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy brain bank hosted by the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF)and Dr. Ann McKee. It was amazing to see the facilities that these dedicated researchers work from to continue to validate the existence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and work diligently to unravel the mysteries of how repeated head trauma affects an athlete’s brain.
When we walked into the VA hospital (hats off to the VA for their support!), I was introduced to other families that had lost their loved ones, primarily their fathers to dementia and CTE. We were escorted by Lisa McHale, the CLF’s Director of Family Legacy Relations to the basement where the brain bank and research center are housed.
Once there we were introduced to Dr. Ann McKee who escorted us, room by room and explained what each piece of machinery was, and what the researchers were working on to continue the mission of better understanding CTE. Finally, we got to the room where all of the donations were held, in large freezers, the largest brain bank of its kind in the world.
If you think that the BU CTE center operates with shiny new equipment and mind-boggling facilities, you would be mistaken. After all, this was the basement of a VA hospital. Their technology was astounding, but it was evident that all of their funds go into their people and equipment, and as a penny-pinching funder of a cause-driven foundation myself, I was impressed.
The final part of the tour was to watch a donated brain be prepared for research. In one room, all of us who have lost loved ones, parents, wives, and daughters, watched as a brain (donated for research as we had donated the brains of our loved ones) was slowly sliced in preparation for the process of analyzing it for evidence of CTE.
A few things that I must point out about this experience:
First, the entire team completely respects the responsibility they have for each donation and treats each brain with absolute care. They know that this is not just an organ, it is a donation from a devastated and grieving family and represents loss….as well as hope. They truly are angels on Earth, as well as scientists.
Second, while the CTE Center has the largest repository of CTE-related brains in the world, they need more “control” or non-CTE-affected brains for research. It is critical to be able to show the difference between affected brains and non-affected ones to demonstrate the impact of the disease. Right now, that is one of the brain bank’s largest challenges. Please consider ways that you may donate your brain.
The CLF hosts a brain donation page at https://bit.ly/Consider-Brain-Donation.
Finally, I must say it was surreal to be in the same room as my son Mac.
It was the closest physically I have been to him outside of his niche at our church. I knew that he was nearby, and I felt comforted yet amazed that we were able to meet again after that tragic day. I knew that one day my brain will be here, and we would be together, on earth as we will be in heaven. That thought was comforting.