Let’s Not Throw Our Kids to the Lions

During Roman times men were placed in arenas to do battle. Sometimes the battles were so fierce that only one man would come out alive. Thank goodness in the fifth century, this type of activity was deemed to be cruel and barbaric and was finally outlawed.

But maybe that barbaric activity changed into “new” and more socially acceptable practices like say; boxing, football, hockey, cage fighting, and maybe even warfare depending on how you look at it. (Where strength over weakness is celebrated as victory) Perhaps mankind’s’ fascination with humans pummeling each other actually continues unabated to this day. In Roman times most of the combatants were not necessarily in the arena by choice……. but they were always adults!

Children were not thrown into arenas as tiny gladiators.

So how have we evolved in modern times to the point where we are now willing to put our own children in such battles? How is it that we can put them in the equivalent of cheap Halloween costumes and ask them to emulate their NFL heroes? We did it. And we can honestly tell you we didn’t know at the time that we were slowly killing our son. We just didn’t have the information necessary 25 years ago to make the proper decision for the welfare of our child. Our biggest fears were orthopedic. Bones (for the most part) can break and heal. Now we have learned BRAINS CANNOT heal like bones can. And this we have learned the hard way. (The hardest way imaginable) We lost our son at the age of 32. And sadly he was lost before he ever had a chance to live his life.

Our son Patrick never played in the NFL. Patrick was like millions of children before and after him that just played for fun and success in life. But throughout high school, prep school and Dartmouth College, our sweet, tough, young running back received enough sub-concussive blows to his head to essentially seal his fate. When he died, a newscaster friend of the family suggested he might have CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. We had never heard of CTE before. We had heard about NFL players having brain issues but never dreamed it could have an effect at the level of a college player. When Patrick’s autopsy revealed he had widespread CTE we were shocked and horrified. How many other players like Patrick are there out there? How many other families are dealing with a loved one gradually coming unwired and have no clue what is happening? Not every grieving family has a newscaster friend saying the words CTE. For the sake of American families this has to change.

People need to know that this disease is out there. That it can occur in youth and high school and college levels of collision sports. Families need to know what the symptoms are and how to address the disease. This has been hidden in plain sight for much too long. It was this realization that prompted our family and friends to form the Patrick Risha CTE Awareness Foundation and the website,StopCTE.org. Families are burying loved ones all over this country thinking they died from suicide, drug addictions, PTSD, depression, ADHD, and irrational behaviors. Thinking that somehow something happened to change the person they loved, and feeling somehow that they failed them. Very few are linking these deaths to CTE.

Since CTE can take a decade to be symptomatic, most often no one is linking it to previous military or sports history from so many years ago.  CTE is an insidious disease that grows very slowly in the brain. We believe the magnitude of this horrific disease has yet to be discovered. Gunplay and murders are in the news every evening, and we always wonder how many of the perpetrators played one football game too many. Society muffles the fact that a reported 20 veterans a day commit suicide, and that suicides exceed homicides every year.

Science is showing that children are in danger and need our help and that families are in crisis. Parents are receiving conflicting data and just don’t know. Every person has the duty to save these children and families. CTE is 100% preventable. Let’s learn as a society to cheer our children in sports that are not harmful to their brains. Let’s get kids out of the arena.

Karen & Doug Zegel
Patrick Risha CTE Awareness Foundation

Living with CTE

Living with an addict isn’t easy.  The facts are in on that!  All you have to do is search the internet to find that most couples don’t survive addiction.  It destroys families, and rips and tears all logic away.

The hardest part of all of this for me is that Grant lived his most of his life and our entire marriage without any idea what the root problem was with his health.  He went in and out of rehab facilities over the years, and could never get sober.

Sadly, it wasn’t until after his death, and the autopsy report by Dr. Ann McKee at the Boston University, before it all started making sense to me.

Grant had Stage III CTE.

As I researched CTE symptoms, I realized Grant had every single one of them. I kept thinking about all the years of our marriage, and all the questions I’d had without answers.  I had continued to believe he would come back to me.  Now I understood why he couldn’t ever return. So much sadness, misunderstandings and grief…..

On July 15, 2012 Grant Feasel died and my world changed forever. I never planned on being married to anyone but him.

Grant Feasel; football;

Grant had sacrificed himself.  He died a shell of a man.  He had been a huge offensive center in NFL for so many years.  He slowly changed, like the sands of the seashore, until he wasn’t anything like the Renaissance man I had married in 1983.  A man who loved poetry and played the guitar and who had options.

He was a 4.0 GPA Biology PreMed major.  He was accepted into every Dental and Medical School in the state of Texas. He wanted a family, and he told me I was the love of his life.  I loved Grant Feasel.

All our plans and dreams were taken away by a lifetime of addiction.  Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy took the man I loved away from me, and my life will never by the same.

I’m begging parents to look at the evidence of all high impact sports to the brain.  Nothing is worth the pain and heartache that we went through.  Grant lived a life of pain.  He became an addict trying to stop the pain.  The longer an athlete plays a head banging sport the more likely it is for them to have a lifetime of health issues.  There is no scholarship or any amount of money that can replace a human life.

America’s favorite game actually kills people.

By: Cyndy Feasel

The Head Is In The Game

Five years have gone by since we lost our Joseph to suicide and CTE. Seems like yesterday when I watched him walk out the door, the last time I saw him alive. Time does not heal the wounds, every day that passes knowing he is never coming back is more painful. At times the grief is unbearable, I know I have to cope with the reality he will never walk through the door again.

Each year for many families this is becoming a reality also. Each year knowing the children are running onto the football field, or entering a boxing ring makes me nauseated knowing they are being exposed to brain damage which substantially increases their risk of early onset of a neurological disease. Each year, parents and coaches are brainwashed with the “safer than ever” hype promoted by the sport industry to use children for their feeder system for their own benefit. The benefits pay off for the promoters, yet in the end those in the feeder system are the ones who suffer.

I never knew what CTE was until my son died, had I known about this brain disease, which has been swept under the rug for many years, I would have never let my three sons play tackle football. When will parents and coaches realize that repetitive hits in heavy, plastic, helmets not made for kids will cause brain damage?

The answer is, when it’s too late.

Joseph Chernach

There is no taking the head out of the game. The head is in the game, both mentally and physically, and cannot be removed. This we learned too late, and the regrets I have weigh on my mind daily, the suffering will continue for my family forever. Knowing my son’s brain was being destroyed by a disease we never suspected, or were even warned that it existed, is devastating and we have to live with these thoughts forever.

As the years pass we will read of many more CTE victims as millions of children have been exposed to brain damage from repetitive hits.  Do the benefits really outweigh the risk? Many injuries and deaths can be prevented by eliminating tackling, headers, checking, sparing and boxing.  #saveyourbrain

By: Debbie Pyka

Where are you in your grief journey ?

By: Marcia Meyer Jenkins RN, GS, CPLC
Mother of Mike Jenkins (3/3/66 – 5/5/11)

How often do we hear, how are you doing? What are people really asking us?  Where are we in our grief journey. So what exctly is grief . . .

The Dictionary definition is: deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death. Grief is the inward feeling of sadness, anguish, and despair. Mourning on the other hand is the outward expression of these feelings…crying, screaming, throwing things, or maybe like me beating in the side wall of the garage with a baseball bat. Crazy behavior, whatever it was, I felt better afterwards.

When we lost our loved one to CTE, chances were we didn’t know it yet. So, the reality of their death was too difficult to takes in. It’s called Shock and Numbness and it is our friend. It allows us to take what has happened in, on our own terms, not anyone else’s. We don’t remember what people have said. Our sleep patterns are distorted; we have very little interest in anything. Sometimes, these same feeling resurface around the anniversary, leaving us confused.

Once the clouds begin to part and we begin to see what has happened and the results. We begin the journey of Searching and Yearning it comes to allow ask the hard questions… why did they end their lives, should or could I have done more…did I really know them at all…if they loved me how  could they have killed themselves? ? ?

The months go past and we begin to see reality set in. Those that had been so interested and provided support have moved on, this period is called Disorientation. During this time we may begin to feel “sick ourselves”. Things that were second nature, now are a struggle to figure out. Actives are exhausting. We don’t know how to enter into what has become our confused new life.

As we approach the year anniversary we begin the time know as Reorganization: during this time energy slowly begins to increase. There are times when we feel the much lost sense of joy again. Sleeping and eating have found a new routine. We start imagine what life may look like without the one we love.

When we look at grief from the stand point of losing someone we love to expected cause. Grief models suggest 1 to 2 years. However, when we lose someone to traumatic death the finding show that grief peaks at 3 years.

Tools we need for the journey…

  • Take good care of yourself. Keep hydrated (drink plenty of water)
  • Talk with your doctor for recourses. Counseling and medications
  • Don’t judge yourself… much of this time you won’t remember
  • Find at least one person who will listen and has your health and safety in mind
  • Keep open communication… especially if there are children involved
  • At journeys end there are sunrises of Hope and sunsets of Peace.

Brain donation

By: Debra Pyka
Mother of Joseph Chernach (07/11/86 – 06/06/12)

After losing my son, Joseph, to suicide I decided to donate his brain tissue for research at the request of my oldest son. We were searching for an explanation for his change in behavior, mood and depression which he had been suffering for years. Knowing an autopsy was ordered by the coroner at the time of death the decision was painful yet we were also searching for answers to our devastating loss. The CTE diagnosis was not a shock to me as I knew Joseph would be diagnosed with CTE, but we were shocked as to the severity and damaged caused by this preventable disease. Dr. Ann McKee diagnosed Joseph with Stage II-III CTE.

On a recent trip to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL., I was able to watch the slicing of several brains by Dr. Dennis Dickson and other neuropathologist students from other countries. We were given a tour of the brain bank by Kevin Bieniek and learned the importance of research and science to help us understand how the brain can be affected by many different neurological diseases. Brain donation will provide important information as to a final diagnosis and advance research to prevent these neurological diseases in the future. Please consider donating your loved one’s brain if they were exposed to head trauma at any age from collision sports. Contact us for further information for brain donation. 1- 800-891-1342.

When the Cheering Stops

  • By: Cyndy Feasel
    Former wife of Grant Feasel (06/28/60 – 07/15/12)

    “If I’d only known that what I loved the most would end up killing me and taking away everything I loved, I would have never done it.”

    These were among the last words spoken to Cyndy Feasel by her late husband, Grant Feasel. He was talking about playing professional football.

    Unless you’re a longtime Seattle Seahawks fan of a certain age, you’ve never heard Grant Feasel, who was the starting center and long snapper for the Seahawks from 1987 to 1992 after starting his pro football career with the old Baltimore Colts in 1983. While playing 117 games in the National Football League, Grant was just another anonymous offensive lineman who toiled in the trenches, banging up his battered body with every snap of the ball. Those jarring collisions with powerful nose guards took their toll on Grant in physical, mental, and spiritual ways, which Cyndy describes in her new book, After the Cheering Stops.

    “After Grant retired from the NFL, he started drinking to dull the pain that began in his brain—a brain muddled by a history of repetitive trauma and symptomatic concussions,” Cyndy said. “Neither of us knew at the time that he was slowly drinking himself to death—a lingering process that took nearly twenty years. I can assure you that there was collateral damage: our marriage was destroyed, our three children were greatly impacted, and I was left financially reeling. All because my husband played a violent game that entertains tens of millions of football fans every Sunday.”

    Life did not end well for Grant. He died at the age of 52 in 2012—much too young. Cyndy watched the man of her dreams die every day in front of her eyes. Today, she faces a bleak future with deep emotional scars that will likely keep her in therapy for the rest of her life.

    “Although Grant missed his real gifts and destiny in this world, I believe he’d be cheering me on to share his story as a precautionary tale of what can happen when you play a sport you love but has inherit risks that wreak tremendous physical damage,” Cyndy said.

    As an elementary and middle school art teacher in Fort Worth, Texas, Cyndy is already seeing the effects of sport-related concussions on the children her classroom. Since Grant’s death, Cyndy has made it her mission to educate parents, athletes, and their families about the dangers of contact sports and the impact to everyone around them.

    After the Cheering Stops is her first book. She is available for media interviews. Contact her through her website a www.cyndyfeasel.com.