Hayley Wickenheiser has joined several other athletes and athlete families and will donate her brain to concussion research upon her death. She fought hard for girls’ rights to play and have equal access to funding and ice time in Canada. She announced her retirement after 23 years on Canada’s women’s team.
As a female professional hockey player and role model for tens of thousands of Canadian girls and women, Ms. Wickenheiser was instrumental in taking women’s hockey from a small niche activity in Canada to a thriving sport which is now a normal thing for girls. She played in 13 women’s world championships, 4 Olympic games, and is Canada’s all-time leading scorer with 168 goals, 211 assists and 276 games won with four Olympic Gold medal and seven world title games.
In her career she has been involved in concussion related causes. She helped to develop technology to treat concussions with a video game in 2017, at Highmark Interactive, a Toronto digital therapeutics company that she co-chairs the advisory board of.
She openly discusses that she suffered dizziness and nausea after being hit hard in the Swedish men’s pro league in 2008, and of watching her good friend and former NHL player Steve Montador’s mental and physical deterioration. Steve Montador was diagnosed with CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) after his death in 2015. She now sees being an ambassador for hockey as one of her goals in life, and wants to leave hockey a better and safer sport.
One of the causes of CTE is believed to be concussion. It is particularly prevalent in former athletes in high concussion sports like football, boxing and hockey. Sadly, the damage to the brain from concussions and micro-concussions is cumulative and irreversible. CTE was once considered an ‘old person’ disease but is now found in young professional athletes regularly. The NFL was rocked by the ‘scandal’ of CTE a few years ago.
CTE can only be diagnosed after death with a physical examination of the brain tissue. Ms. Wickenheiser’s promised donation will help to further the research to pinpoint causes of CTE and hopefully to work towards better protection and prevention of the disease.
According to Boston University CTE Research Centre:
Frequently Asked Questions about CTE
What is CTE?
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma (often athletes), including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms. CTE has been known to affect boxers since the 1920’s (when it was initially termed punch drunk syndrome or dementia pugilistica).
In recent years, reports have been published of neuropathologically confirmed CTE found in other athletes, including football and hockey players (playing and retired), as well as in military veterans who have a history of repetitive brain trauma. CTE is not limited to current professional athletes; it has also been found in athletes who did not play sports after high school or college.
The repeated brain trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active athletic involvement. The brain degeneration is associated with common symptoms of CTE including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicidality, parkinsonism, and eventually progressive dementia.