Former Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals tight end Ben Utecht had five concussions during his short NFL playing career. The big one, the one that came from a hit that knocked him out cold for 90 seconds and effectively ended his playing career, came during training camp in 2009. It changed his life, although when asked about it in an interview by ESPN's Rick Reilly, Utecht confesses -- after a long pause -- that he can't remember who delivered the hit.
It's not the only thing Ben Utecht doesn't remember. ESPN's story chronicles (embedded below), in heartbreaking detail, the memory loss Utecht has suffered as a result of his multiple concussions. "There's a lot of gaps," he tells Reilly, including not having any memory of being in a friend's wedding. "To this day, I can't find it," Utecht says. His concussions, which ESPN notes date back to youth football, haven't just robbed him of his memories. He says they've also made it increasingly difficult for him to communicate with others, including his wife and three young daughters. "It's like walking through quicksand sometimes," he tells ESPN.
Utecht's neurologist, Mayo's Bradley Boeve, M.D., makes a short appearance in the ESPN segment to talk about how Utecht's multiple concussions have effectively aged him well beyond his 33 years. "For people who have had concussions, some will have symptoms that are almost identical to someone with early Alzheimer's disease, while some will describe more retrograde amnesia, or holes in their memory," Dr. Boeve tells ESPN.
Increasingly afraid for himself and others, Utecht has dedicated himself to brain injury reform, according to ESPN. In a clip of his testimony before the U.S. Senate about the lasting effects that his own brain injuries have had, Utecht says, "It took losing my mind … to care about my mind."
Shortly after that day in D.C., Utecht decided to write a letter to his wife and three daughters that he said should only be opened if there came a day when he could no longer remember them. Now a musician, Utecht has turned that letter into a song and a music video for his newest album. (Warning: You may need a tissue.)
As difficult as Utecht's story is, Dr. Boeve tells us that much is being done throughout Mayo Clinic to help ensure that the future is brighter, not just for professional athletes but for everyone suffering from concussions. "Concussions have been part of the Mayo practice for many years," he says. "And it's becoming much more coordinated and much more multi-disciplined. Several disciplines are all coming together across Mayo to not only see patients clinically after a brain injury, but to also study them more at the research level."
You can learn more about Mayo's latest concussion-related work here, here, here and here. Then, be sure to share your comments below and share this story with others via the social media tools here on the blog.