Here's a sad story courtesy of the Windsor Star.
Probert’s widow saw hints of brain malady in NHL enforcer
Dani Probert vividly recalls the Sunday night she was sitting at home watching television with her late husband Bob just over a year ago when they came upon a 60 Minutes segment on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
Neither of them had heard of the condition resulting from repeated brain trauma, but the story — which dealt mainly with stricken football players — touched a nerve for the couple.
“At the end of the show, the segment, they announced that they needed hockey players’ brains. I just looked at Bob and he said, ‘Absolutely’,” Probert said Thursday in the home she shared with the 45-year-old retired NHL pugilist who died last July of a heart attack.
“He didn’t hesitate. And not knowing six months later that I’d be doing just that.”
On Thursday the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine confirmed that Probert suffered from a mild form of the condition.
“The initial findings show that Mr. Probert did have CTE when he passed away,” said Chris Nowinski, the CEO of the Sports Legacy Institute, an umbrella group that oversees the study. “The best way to quantify it is that it didn’t appear to be as severe as football players and boxers of the same age.”
Don Fehr, president of the National Hockey League Players’ Association, said they are planning to review the results of the completed study.
“Today’s announcement regarding the CTE diagnosis of former NHLPA member Bob Probert is an important piece of research that the players, along with everyone else interested in the safety and well-being of hockey players, should consider seriously, along with other relevant research and data,” said Fehr. “We look forward to reviewing the full results of the study once they are made available.”
Dani Probert doesn’t blame her husband’s CTE on his frequent fighting. Although he never officially suffered a concussion, Probert told his wife that, in retrospect, he may have had “three or four.”
Probert, who played for 16 years in the NHL with the Red Wings and Blackhawks, had more than 200 fights. He was also involved in a serious car crash in 1986 and a motorcycle crash in 1994.
“I’m not taking on the NHL and I’m not wanting to talk about eliminating fighting from the league,” she said.
“I just wanted to raise awareness, basically. It’s part of the science. Bob wanted to donate his brain for a reason, to get the results put out there, so this is following through with that.”
Common symptoms of CTE are short-term memory loss, irritability and depression.
Diagnosis of CTE involves forensically searching for signs of trauma on the exterior of the brain as well as interviewing family members of the victims about the deceased’s behaviour.
“Nothing major, but there were certain signs, the short-term memory loss, the short fuse, definitely,” said Probert.
“He could remember 15 years ago, games, players, who scored, if he’s playing blackjack who had what hand, even what the dealer had. But if you’d ask him what he’d had for breakfast he couldn’t remember. That, to me, was the most significant one, the short-term memory loss.”
With two of her own sons playing hockey, Probert says the issue is of ongoing concern for her.
“Just knowing my kids are athletes, we love the sport of hockey . . . if one of my kids happened to have multiple concussions, and didn’t have the amount of time to recover from those, if there was any pressure for them to get back in and play, maybe I would seriously consider that wasn’t the sport for them,” she said.
Nowinski said it is impossible to attribute Probert’s CTE exclusively to hockey.
“There’s no way to really attribute the beginning of the disease to any specific activity,” he said. “We just know Mr. Probert suffered brain trauma as a hockey player, also as an enforcer and outside car accidents . . . It tells us the brain is fragile, but it doesn’t tell us what was the worst part for him.”
The final report is currently being written and will be submitted to a medical journal for publication. Probert said she knows more than she’s allowed to talk about and is eagerly anticipating the release of the final report.
“I’m looking forward to that getting out because it’s an incredible study,” said Probert.
“There’s so much I want to talk about, definitely. I definitely hope there would be some changes made, I don’t know to what extent, just the fact that it’s being brought to people’s attention, the fact that it’s being talked about.”
Ryan Donally also wants to get the word out about concussions. The former Windsor Spitfire captain and a 2003 Calgary Flames draft pick at 97th overall retired from professional hockey last year after suffering his eighth concussion with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL.
“I would say that in light of what’s happened today and the official diagnosis of brain injuries that he sustained, I’m happy right now that I’m not playing hockey for the injuries that I’ve had,” said Donally, 26, who is now studying business at the University of Windsor.
“I probably got out at a good time. I don’t think that I would have benefitted long-term from having a couple of more injuries. I think that I was vigilant enough and aware enough to get out. You can fix a shoulder, you can fix a knee, you can fix a hip, but you only have the one brain.”