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                           Chelsea scanned photo

                                       Chelsea Enjoying the Coast of Maine

On Wednesday, we learned of the death of NFL linebacker Junior Seau.

Chargers chaplain Shawn Mitchell tells Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times that the family of Chargers linebacker Junior Seau has decided to allow his brain to be studied.

Seau died Wednesday of a gunshot wound to the chest.  His death has been ruled a suicide.

Per Farmer, the family has not yet determined which group will conduct the study.  The two leading — and competing — groups are the Sports Legacy Institute at Boston University and the Brain Injury Research Institute.

Mitchell said that the family hopes “to help other individuals down the road.”

Much has been written on the subject of traumatic brain injury in sports, from youngsters to professionals, and about Junior Seau. As chronicled in this article, Seau may have experienced over 1,500 concussions over his 20-year career in the NFL.

It's not my intent to delve into the issues surrounding traumatic brain injury in sports, as I am certain that other diarists here who have been reporting on this issue will continue to do so.

Today, I am remembering two brain donations much closer to home. Follow along below the Orange Matter for the rest of the story.

My father passed away in 2006 from Alzheimer's disease. His heartbreaking decline is chronicled in one of my first diaries as a Kossack.

My father was a brilliant Renaissance man, shy and self-effacing, about as different a person from the athletic and extroverted Junior Seau as can be imagined. He was one of two applicants from his home state selected to attend Harvard on a full scholarship, graduating with BA and MA degrees in Musicology, he later earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering by attending night school four nights a week while working full time.

He worked in the aerospace industry, helped launch a start-up computer company, and designed inventions from which others would profit. Throughout his life, he was active in all manner of intellectual pursuits: translating operas, creating complex acrostic puzzles, cataloging electronic artifacts, corresponding, writing, reading, playing the piano, enjoying classical music, following politics and world events, and studying natural science. He was genius-smart, creative, kind, nurturing, and endowed with a wonderful sense of humor.

He gave me a great start in life, reading to me, taking me hiking in the woods, canoeing on the lake, to the natural history museum and the planetarium, science club trips, geologic points of interest, and all the while challenging me to think, reason, read, write, and connect the dots of the natural and theoretical world.

In his early 80's, it became clear that my dad was suffering some form of dementia, a prospect that filled my mom with dread and denial. Brains counted for a lot in my family; probably way too much, in retrospect.

My dad underwent a battery of tests - cognitive and medical - that confirmed a diagnosis of Alzheimer's. I was there when the geriatric neurologist reviewed the findings with my parents. He showed us the brain scans, which my dad examined with a mix of scientific curiosity and self-awareness, noting in his typical understated manner: "well, THAT explains a lot!".

Before he died, my father agreed with my mom that his brain should be donated for research, and arrangements were made with the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. The donation took place within hours of his death, and we received the neuropathology report a few months later.

I won't say that this donation made his death any less sorrowful or difficult to bear, but I hope that it could help advance the understanding of Alzheimer's disease and make progress towards prevention or a cure.

                                                * * * * *

Several years earlier, I had gotten a telephone call from my ex-husband informing me that our Irish Setter-Golden Retriever mix, Chelsea, had been hit by a car. She was alive, but unresponsive. Our divorce after nearly 20 years of marriage had been amicable; I was the one who left. My mom didn't take it seriously at first, until I told her that I was leaving my beloved dogs with my ex so that they could remain in their home with their expansive yard.

I drove to my former home, and we brought Chelsea to the local emergency vet, who told us that they didn't have the facilities to treat her, and recommended that we take her to the Tufts Veterinary Clinic, which we did. Unconscious but not in apparent pain for the ride, Chelsea didn't move or make a sound until we pulled into the parking lot, where we were greeted by two women who would help us move this beautiful, 70-pound dog into the clinic.

I had been talking to Chelsea the whole way, imagining that she could hear my comforting voice wherever she was. When I said "Look, Chelsea! There are two nice ladies here to help us", she thumped her tail! We had acquired Chelsea from a broken home due to the owner's divorce; Chelsea was very wary of men, but loved "ladies".

At the clinic she was examined and put on a ventilator, where she was "resting comfortably". No broken bones, miraculously, but the vets were concerned about a possible brain injury, and needed to keep her for observation. I visited her over the next two days and as I was speaking with the technician, I saw Chelsea's heartbeat and respiration pick up. I stroked her gorgeous red-gold fur, and the effect was the same. Chelsea was in there, somewhere.

On the third day, she developed a high fever, and the vet advised me that if she recovered, she would likely suffer significant brain damage. With a heavy heart, we decided to take her off life support. We donated her intact body and her injured brain to the veterinary clinic for their research.

                                                * * * * *

Originally posted to cassandracarolina's fossil record on Fri May 04, 2012 at 09:24 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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