BOSTON - An examination of the brain of the late NHL star Richard Martin shows that fighters aren't the only hockey players who can be victims of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Researchers at the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy found that Martin, who died of a heart attack last March at age 59, was suffering from the disease linked to repeated brain trauma.
The brains of three former NHLers studied to date -- fighters Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert were the other two -- all suffered from the disease to varying degrees.
Study results revealed Martin had stage 2 of 4 (4 being the most severe) of the disease, "a stage unlikely to significantly affect his cognitive abilities or behaviour," the CSTE said.
Martin, a member of the famed "French Connection" line with the Buffalo Sabres during the 1970s, did not suffer known brain trauma outside of hockey and was not a fighter. His only known concussion occurred in a game in 1977 when his head hit the ice while not wearing a helmet, causing immediate convulsions. Martin wore a helmet only for the four years he played after that injury, according to researchers.
"Rick Martin's case shows us that even hockey players who don't engage in fighting are at risk for CTE, likely because of the repetitive brain trauma players receive throughout their career," CSTE co-director Chris Nowinski said Wednesday. "We hope the decision-makers at all levels of hockey consider this finding as they continue to make adjustments to hockey to make the game safer for participants."
Results of a study of the brain of former enforcer Derek Boogaard, who died last spring at the age of 28 from what was ruled an accidental drug overdose, are pending.
"It is scientifically interesting that Mr. Martin only had stage 2 disease at 59 years old, as by that age most cases in our brain bank have advanced to stage 3 or 4. There are a number of variables that we don't yet understand that could account for this finding, such as lower lifetime exposure to brain trauma, later onset of the disease, genetic risk factors, among others," Dr. Robert Cantu, a leading concussion expert and a CSTE co-director, said.
Said CSTE co-director Dr. Robert Stern: "We believe that repetitive brain trauma is a necessary factor for developing the disease, but not a sufficient factor. We now must learn why some people get the disease and others don't and why CTE progresses more quickly and severely in some individuals than in others."