(CHICAGO) - Hockey Hall of Famer and Chicago Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita has been diagnosed with Stage III (of IV) Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Researchers at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, a collaboration between the VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston University CTE Center and the Concussion Legacy Foundation, made the postmortem diagnosis.
Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the BU CTE Center and VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, discussed the findings for the first time Friday evening at the request of the Mikita family during the Concussion Legacy Foundation's Chicago Honors dinner.
"Stan Mikita was diagnosed with two neurodegenerative diseases that our research has shown are associated with a long career in contact sports such as ice hockey: CTE and Lewy Body Disease," said Dr. McKee.
Prior to his death in 2018, Mikita visited the research team in Boston and made the decision to pledge his brain to give back to his fellow players, the game of hockey and support research. At the end of his life, he developed dementia, visual hallucinations and trouble walking.
Mikita is the eighth former NHL player diagnosed with CTE at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, along with Derek Boogaard, Bob Probert, Reggie Fleming, Rick Martin, Larry Zeidel, Todd Ewen and Jeff Parker. VA and BU researchers also have diagnosed CTE in four former amateur hockey players, none of whom reached the NHL.
While CTE has been diagnosed in hundreds of former football players, scientists have struggled to acquire the brains of hockey players. Now that CTE has been diagnosed in one of the greatest NHL players in history, scientists and advocates hope this will spark more interest in research in hockey.
"We hope Stan Mikita's pledge and CTE diagnosis will inspire greater participation in research from the hockey community," said Chris Nowinski, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, who helped facilitate Mikita's brain pledge. "Without greater participation from the hockey community, we have little hope for treating or preventing CTE within our lifetime."
CTE is a neurodegenerative disease associated with deficits in cognition, behavior, and mood. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is believed to be caused by repetitive head impacts, including concussions as well as subconcussive trauma.
The Concussion Legacy Foundation posthumously honored Mikita and his family with the 2019 Courage Award Friday at its Chicago Honors dinner for their selfless contributions to CTE research and endless commitment to serving the community.
Current and former hockey players have pledged their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation to support CTE research. The list of pledges includes former NHL players Keith Primeau, Shawn McEachern, Eric Daze, Craig Adams, Ben Lovejoy, Bob Sweeney and Ted Drury, and Olympic gold medalists AJ Griswold, Angela Ruggiero and Hayley Wickenheiser. More than 5,000 former athletes and military veterans have pledged to donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Those who are interested can make the #MyLegacyPledge at ConcussionFoundation.org/pledge.
About Stan Mikita:
Mikita was a steadfast leader in the Chicago community who was passionate about helping others. He was instrumental in bringing the Special Olympics to Chicago, and co-founded the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association. On the ice, he's one of the greatest to ever wear a Blackhawks jersey. The franchise's all-time leading scorer spent his entire 21 season NHL career in the Windy City, leading the team to win the 1961 Stanley Cup Championship and earning the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player in 1967 and ’68. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.