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NFL being sued by family of deceased player over head injuries

Football players have a reputation for being tough: they take repeated blows to their heads and bodies throughout a game and stay out on the field as long as they possibly can. While more is being understood about how brain injuries affect today's players, it's the athletes of yesterday who are falling victim to repeated such injuries -- felling even the toughest of ex-players.

One case in point is a suit filed recently in federal court by the family of former NFL linebacker Wally Hilgenberg. He died in September 2008 of what doctors originally believed was Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. However, some of Hilgenberg's organs were donated to a project at the Boston University School of Medicine. Researchers at that project determined in 2010 that his death was caused by Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE.

The family is suing the NFL on behalf of the estate of Wally Hilgenberg and for Hilgenberg's wife and son. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy has been studied for several years now at Boston University; unfortunately, it can only be diagnosed after death in a post-mortem examination conducted by experts.

As of last year, the study had examined the brains of 15 deceased NFL players and found that 14 had suffered from CTE. One player who was troubled by his injuries committed suicide last year by shooting himself in the chest, apparently to ensure that his brain could be preserved for research purposes. His brain was later determined to be afflicted with the disease.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Vet's Family Sues NFL for Wrongful Death," Philip A. Janquart, Feb. 13, 2012

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