First New Zealand professional rugby union player confirmed to have died with CTE

First New Zealand professional rugby union player confirmed to have died with CTE - Health - News

Former Rugby Union Player Becomes First New Zealander Diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

A tragic incident from 2023 has marked a significant milestone in New Zealand’s sports history. The late Billy Guyton, a former professional rugby union player, was the first individual from this country to receive an official diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) posthumously. CTE is a neurodegenerative disease associated with repeated head trauma.

Background and Diagnosis

Billy Guyton took his own life at the age of 33, leaving behind a profound impact that went beyond his rugby career. After his passing, his family graciously donated his brain to Auckland’s Neurological Foundation Human Brain Bank for further examination and research. The brain bank conducted a post-mortem pathology that led to the formal diagnosis of CTE.

Symptoms and Impact

CTE can only be definitively diagnosed after death with an autopsy. It is characterized by the abnormal buildup of a protein called Tau in the brain, which can disrupt neuropathways and cause various clinical symptoms such as memory loss, confusion, impaired judgement, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control issues, and sometimes suicidal behavior.

Family’s Desperation and Frustration

Guyton’s father, John, expressed his deep concern about the missed opportunities to help his son while he was still alive. He shared that Billy had spent years struggling with symptoms similar to those of CTE, but unfortunately, the healthcare professionals failed to identify the underlying issue despite numerous visits and consultations. After watching a documentary about the disease, John was convinced that his son had suffered from it.

A Growing Concern in Rugby

CTE’s diagnosis highlights the escalating crisis surrounding head injuries within rugby communities worldwide. This includes both professional and amateur players who have experienced symptoms after their careers, some of which have resulted in suicidal behavior. In the UK, more than 450 former and current rugby players have banded together to take legal action against the various governing bodies for failing to protect them from permanent brain injuries sustained during their careers.

CTE: A Widespread Concern in Rugby

A recent study by the University of Glasgow, Boston University, and the University of Sydney involving post-mortem brain exams of 31 former amateur and elite rugby union players revealed CTE in approximately two-thirds (68%) of the donated brains. However, it’s important to note that there may be a selection bias due to the fact that these brains were likely submitted by relatives who had noticed symptoms in their family members while they were still alive.

Addressing the Issue

As awareness about CTE continues to grow, it is crucial for sports organizations and healthcare professionals to take a proactive approach in identifying, addressing, and preventing the disease. This includes implementing stricter head injury protocols, conducting more extensive research on CTE, and providing adequate support for athletes dealing with the long-term effects of their injuries.

Suicide Prevention Resources

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, there are resources available to help:

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the US at 800-273-8255 (800-273-TALK) for free and confidential support, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Call the TrevorLifeline (for the LGBTQ community) at 866-488-7386.
  • Connect with Befrienders Worldwide to find the nearest emotional support center in your area.