May 01, 2018 05:53 AM
When doctors asked Kyle Raarup how many headaches he suffered every week, the boy would answer with a question of his own: "They go away?"
The constant pounding in Raarup's head became a routine part of his childhood in Wyoming, Minn. By the time Raarup finished the eighth grade, he had suffered concussions playing football, hockey and baseball and he was advised by doctors to stop playing contact sports, Beth Raarup, Kyle Raarup's mother, said.
Kyle missed most of ninth grade because of recurring headaches. The pounding resumed even after what seemed to be minor collisions or hits to the head. A football to the head while playing catch at a Halloween party led to headaches for 14 months. All totaled, he'd suffered at least 10 severe concussions from grade school into high school, his mother said.
"I know when people look at it now they are like 'Geez, you didn't handle that very well,'" Beth said. "But at that point we hadn't heard of a concussion protocol."
In college, Kyle's pain, depression and anxiety had become overwhelming. In 2015, he committed suicide in his dorm room at the age of 20. In a suicide note, he wrote that the concussions "altered" his life.
"He told me on multiple occasions, 'Something is wrong with my brain – there is something wrong with it,''' Beth said.
Out of their grief, his parents became determined to find the answers that had eluded their son for so long – all in the hope to raise awareness for other parents whose children have suffered similar head injuries.
Beth and her husband Mike sent their son's brain to a Veterans Administration hospital in Boston, Mass., where researchers are studying the long-term impact of concussions and hits to the head.
An examination of Kyle's brain tissue revealed he had the early stages of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.
He is one of the youngest people in the country to be diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease.
Researchers at the lab have diagnosed the disease – after death – in former professional football and hockey players, and veterans who have suffered repeated head trauma.
CTE, researchers say, is linked to symptoms that include memory loss, confusion, erratic behavior and personality changes – including depression and suicidal thoughts.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS was granted rare access to the lab earlier this year where Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University's CTE Center, explained how brain donations from families like the Raarups have expanded their research to include non-professional athletes.
"I can never wrap my head around these young people that have this disease," Dr. McKee said in interview.
Watch that investigative report by clicking the dropdown below. Read the full story, video included, here.
Kyle's diagnosis had finally provided his parents with an explanation for his struggles.
"We were just relieved," his mother said. "If we had known about CTE, it would have changed how we approached multiple concussions."
Beth and Mike say that they do not want Kyle's injuries and death to frighten other families whose children are playing contact sports.
"Other kids on his team, they got hit in the head but they didn't have that prolonged problem with it," Beth said.
Instead, they said they hope their son's struggle increases awareness of the potential consequences of repetitive head trauma.
"People need to know about it so we can look at long-term effects," Beth said as she held back tears. "You don't ever want this."
Updated: May 01, 2018 05:53 AM
Created: April 30, 2018 10:33 AM
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