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First case of stage 2 CTE diagnosed in teenage football player
Kansas City area 18-year-old had worst brain trauma seen in someone so young
(Boston) – The parents of a former Missouri high school football player are going public with their son’s stage 2 (of 4) chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) diagnosis. Wyatt Bramwell, of Pleasant Hill, Mo., died by suicide in July 2019 at age 18, just months after graduating from high school. Boston University CTE Center researchers made the diagnosis, the first case of stage 2 (of 4) CTE in a teenager.
“It takes years for CTE to progress from stage 1 to stage 2, so to find stage 2 CTE in an 18-year-old is the clearest evidence yet that we are giving children CTE in sports,” said Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the Boston University CTE Center and UNITE Brain Bank. “I hope this inspires further CTE prevention efforts, including adoption of CTE Prevention Protocols in sports.”
Bramwell hid his symptoms from family members and only started showing noticeable changes in the last two months of his life. In a video he recorded before his death, he confessed to struggling with depression, racing thoughts, paranoia and difficulty thinking straight saying, “my life for the past four years has been a living hell inside of my head.”
However, it is unclear if Bramwell’s symptoms were caused by his stage 2 CTE, his multiple concussions, or had other causes, according to a study of 152 athletes who died before the age of 30 published earlier this year in JAMA Neurology that included Bramwell.
Research is clear that Bramwell’s CTE was caused by playing tackle football from age 8 to age 18, including four years of high school in which he played both wide receiver and cornerback. A June 2023 Boston University study published in Nature Communications found football players’ odds of developing CTE were closely related to estimates of the number and strength of head impacts they received over their career.
Before his death, Bramwell asked his parents to donate his brain for research saying, “I took a lot of hits through football. I took a lot of concussions, and a lot of times I never told anybody about how I was feeling in my head after a hit.”
“We were completely shocked to learn that Wyatt had CTE,” said Christie Bramwell, Wyatt’s mother. “We hope sharing his story serves as a cautionary tale to all football parents and educates them on the risks of playing the sport. If it could happen to our son, it could happen to anyone.”
“By going public with Wyatt’s diagnosis, we hope other families think twice about allowing their young children to play tackle football,” said Bill Bramwell, Wyatt’s father. “Knowing what I know now, I would have encouraged Wyatt to play flag football for much longer.”
“For an 18-year-old to have the same stage of CTE as Junior Seau, who played 20 seasons in the NFL, is disturbing, but not surprising,” said Dr. Chris Nowinski, Concussion Legacy Foundation CEO. “Kids are bigger, faster, and stronger than ever, and I don’t understand why we still have nearly 1 million boys playing tackle football before high school knowing some will develop CTE like Wyatt Bramwell. At that age, we should only allow flag football.”
CTE can only be diagnosed after death. There is no known cure, but treatment is available for many symptoms of the disease. The CLF HelpLine is available to provide personalized support for any current or former athletes concerned about repetitive head trauma looking for help. Patients and caregivers can submit a request here.
Wyatt Bramwell’s story is included with several other athletes who died young and were later diagnosed with CTE in a feature report printed in today's New York Times.