REPOST: Could veterans have concussion-related CTE?

The living brains of two ex-soldiers show damage similar to that of football players who have committed suicide. This CNN article tells more about concussion-related CTE.

(CNN) After his last tour in Iraq, it took master gunner Shane Garcie about six weeks to notice he’d changed.

“Your brain is throwing parties because you’re home, you’re alive,” says Garcie. “So, it doesn’t settle in right away.”

Now he’s not sure what bothers him most: the fogginess of his brain, the anger that can erupt from nowhere or the deep, dark depressions he can’t shake off.

“One minute I’m in a good happy mood, everything is cool; the next minute I’m depressed,” Garcie told CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “I don’t want to be around anybody, I want to isolate. Some days, I don’t want to get out of bed.”

“We could walk around this town and everybody, 90% of these people, would say, ‘Hey, Shane, hey,’ ” Garcie says about his hometown of Natchitoches, Louisiana. “But it’s not Shane. It looks like me, it walks like me, it talks like me, but it’s not me because of the damage.”

Since 1984, Green Beret Tommy Shoemaker has served in many war theaters — Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia — and is still an Army reservist. He came home from Iraq to Monroe, Louisiana, in late 2006 with a bum leg and a disabled brain.

“I carry note cards and a pen with me everywhere I go, and when I’m talking to somebody, I write it down,” Shoemaker told Gupta. “Because if I don’t, I won’t remember. I mean memory was not a problem for me, I could remember anything. And now I have to write everything down.”

But it’s the mood swings he can’t control that do the most harm.

“I’ve always been really easygoing. Everything rolled off my back, no problems,” says Shoemaker in his Southern drawl.

“But now that’s not so. I mean, I’ll get mad over something as simple as a banana peel in the front yard or my wife saying the wrong thing to me, and is it really anything? No, but at that moment, it hits me and I just do things that I would’ve never done before. I yell, I scream, I holler, and that’s just never been my manner. I’m sad for my kids and my wife to have to live with that.”

“It’s tough, really tough,” agrees Pam Shoemaker, Tommy’s wife. “I do remember him telling me that ‘I’m different,’ ‘I’m not the same'” when he first came home. “I didn’t understand. But I do now.”

Brain studies

Dr. Julian Bailes, co-director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Illinois, is pointing at the angry red and vivid yellow blooms on the PET scan of a living brain.

“Compared to normal controls, you see abnormal binding in the areas under the surface of the brain and deeper in the brain, showing abnormal accumulations of tau protein,” he explains.

All are signs of CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a crippling neurological disorder caused by repeated blows to the head.

Characterized by deep depression, failing memory and anger that lurks just under the surface, CTE is a form of dementia that first came to light in the boxing world. “Punch drunk” was the term most often used for former pugilists, such as Muhammad Ali, who developed brain damage after a lifetime of hard knocks. Today it’s called dementia pugilistica and is considered a variant of CTE.

CTE is the disease many believe played a role in the deaths of former NFL players like Ray Easterling, Junior Seau, Shane Dronett and Dave Duerson. They all shot themselves. Duerson left a note asking that his brain be studied.

Living brain scans of Tommy Shoemaker and Shane Garcie
Living brain scans of Tommy Shoemaker and Shane Garcie | Image Source:

Images like these are traditionally gathered post-mortem, from brain samples taken at autopsy. That’s been the only way CTE could be diagnosed. Only a handful of studies have looked at living brains, with the hope a diagnosis could be made before death.

“Looking at living brains is a remarkable contribution to the science right now, a really remarkable contribution,” Dr. Geoffrey Ling told CNN. Ling is director of the Biological Technologies office at DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. “It is very exciting and the potential is dramatic.”

In one of the largest studies of its kind to date, Bailes and his co-authors at UCLA compared the living brains of 14 former athletes thought to have CTE, 24 patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and two ex-soldiers, Tommy Shoemaker and Shane Garcie, to a control group of 28 cognitively normal people.

The researchers injected the participants with a radioactive “tracer” called [f-18]FDDNP before their PET scans. The tracer latches on to a brain protein called tau, which is thought to be responsible for much of the damage in Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain disorders, and lights up areas of the brain that are affected.

“For us to be able to make the diagnosis of the injury or the disease in living people is paramount to being able to help them, treat them and to find some way to keep them out of progressing into a terminal problem,” says Bailes.

The scans of the ex-soldiers was a plus: a tiny sample designed to give a glimpse into what might be causing their debilitating symptoms.

And they offer a chance to explore what many experts are beginning to suspect: The blasts and energy jolts common in warfare might be creating a new form of CTE, a “blast-variant” version.

“In the military, it seems it would be vitally important to know who has been exposed to this, and then be able to identify, mark, follow the progression of brain degeneration from blast injury,” says Bailes. “And to know who’s at risk and maybe who needs to be pulled out of harm’s way permanently.”

Sure enough, the specific pattern of the tau the researchers found in Garcie and Shoemaker’s brains didn’t look at all like Alzheimer’s. Instead, it looked similar to the tau display found in the 14 players suspected of having CTE and the results taken from brain autopsies of people diagnosed with CTE.

Scan may detect signs of NFL players’ brain disease

And it looked similar to what had been found in a previous study by Bailes and his UCLA colleagues of the living brains of five NFL football players who were suspected of having CTE.

‘So many’ concussions

According to the Brain Trauma Foundation, 10% to 20% of Iraqi veterans are suffering from some level of traumatic brain disorder. The foundation even calls it the “signature injury” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“One was a suicide bomber,” says Shoemaker. He’s recalling the last — and worst — of some 35 concussions he’s had over his military career. While about half of those rendered him unconscious, he says his training often took over.

“I was in an open vehicle with no top between me and the explosion. So I had some shrapnel and suffered a concussion, but I was able to stay focused enough with muscle memory to just keep driving, ’til my head kind of cleared, and I kept going.”

“And the other one was a roadside bomb. I was knocked unconscious but again was able to just out of memory continue driving, not even realizing what had happened.”

Shane Garcie can’t recall how many concussions he’s had.

“No, because there’s so many. There’s so many,” says Garcie. “There are so many reasons for the jarrings, for the beatings. Not just IEDs, not just car bombs, not just in a firefight or grenades going off.”

“Think about it, you know. Iraq doesn’t have the best roads,” Garcie continues. “And you hit that bump and your head — it smacks the turret. Rollovers are severe because of the canals. I mean, you’re driving in blackout mode on dark nights, with nods on and no lights — you can barely see 10 feet in front of you. There are so many ways it can happen.”

New form of dementia?

The science of CTE is in its infancy. A band of researchers around the country has been racing to catalog as much information as possible, to answer the questions: Is CTE distinct enough to be diagnosed? Is it a “new” neurodegenerative disease?

“Before people run out and say, ‘Oh, this person has CTE, or that person has CTE,’ I think that’d be way premature to do that,” says Ling. “Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, that’s a condition that still needs further study.”

Researchers struggle with how to tease out the differences between post-concussion syndrome, a chronic but stable disease, and CTE, which early research shows spreads from the initial site of impact throughout the brain and worsens with age.

“There’s so many things about CTE we don’t understand,” says Bailes. “There never has been long-term longitudinal studies that analyze who gets it and exactly why, what the prevalence of it is, and then who progresses. There may be a group that doesn’t progress.”

The type of radioactive marker to use, and how accurate it is in binding to tau protein, is also under scrutiny. A number of tau trackers are in the works, and each seem to have unique characteristics. The UCLA study’s [f-18]FDDNP is an older marker that critics say isn’t specific enough because it can also bind to amyloids, which are misfolded proteins commonly seen in Alzheimer’s brains.

Bailes and several of his UCLA co-authors have launched a company to develop [f-18]FDDNP, and they defend their tracer this way: “Most CTE sufferers have been found at autopsy to have tau, but also about 40% have had amyloid as well. So they are showing both degeneration markers in the brain,” says Bailes.

“Most importantly, it’s a distinct pattern that we haven’t seen in any other condition — not in Alzheimer’s, not in other forms of dementia, and certainly not in normal controls. So it’s not just what we’re binding to, it’s that this pattern appears to be distinct and it appears to be the areas that have been damaged in autopsy studies of sufferers with CTE.”

Ling has a more global view. “In the end, these scans are just scans. That’s all that they are. It really has to do with the context of the patient. We have to understand the patient: What is their history? Do they have multiple head injuries? Do they have anything else that could compound this?”

Right now, prevention is the only treatment
At this time, there is no cure for CTE. There are no real treatments, either. All that can be done is to treat the symptoms. Psychotherapy and antidepressants are often prescribed for anxiety and anger, while memory issues are tackled with lifestyle and diet changes that may or may not help.

“There really is no concussion pill, there’s no specific medication we have to treat these,” says Bailes. “It’s recognition, it’s taking that individual out of harm’s way for future impacts or blast injury, and it’s allowing the brain to heal.”

Experts agree that accurately identifying brain injury on the spot is critical. That’s because the risk increases each time you have one. “Every concussion predisposes you to be a little more sensitive to have another one, especially if they are in close proximity time wise,” says Bailes.

The hope is that science will develop a test that can diagnose brain trauma in war zones or on the sidelines of a football game at the time of injury. Several are in development, but only a pencil-and-paper test is in use right now.

For Shane Garcie, all that matters is what can be done to keep other soldiers from ending up like him.

“I’ve talked to other doctors and a couple of neurologists and neurosurgeons, and they’re like, ‘Man, really, I don’t know how you’re functioning like you are,’ he says. “I could’ve been a comedian. I was very quick-witted, very smart. Now I stutter. I sputter. I lose words. I can be having a conversation and forget everything we’re talking about.”

“But it’s not just Shane that’s having all these brain issues. There were thousands of troops who were getting blasted by IEDs, car bombs, RPGs, grenades. I want them to know that they’re not alone.”

For Tommy Shoemaker, it’s important that soldiers with CTE receive a physical diagnosis, rather than just being lumped under the umbrella of post-traumatic stress disorder. To him, it matters a great deal that his symptoms are the result of a brain injury, instead of the inability to cope with the emotional fallout of trauma.

“People are more apt to accept a physical disorder than they are mental disorders,” he says. “So if you can do that for soldiers, I think that’s a big plus.”

“I think it’s a plus when they go to get a job, you know, and they ask ’em: ‘Do you have a mental disorder?’ Well no, I don’t. I have a brain injury. Nobody wants to be diagnosed as having a mental disorder.”

Will McHale is an assistant coach for La Courneuve Flash and a football fan. Follow this Twitter account for sports news and articles.


Increased safety and the future of American football

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Early in March, the retirement of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland from the sport brought to the fore how much people do not know about the game’s effects on its athletes. Borland cited concerns about head injuries as his reason for retiring at age 24, saying that he wanted to live a longer life and that he doesn’t want any neurological disorders and increased risks of dying young.

Indeed, while hundreds of athletes bump heads when they play contact sports, the fact remains that medical science still does not know the full extent of the damage to the athletes. What is known right now is that some players have emerged from the sport with brain damage.

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The topic of brain damage, however, remains a controversial one. Joseph Maroon, an NFL-affiliated doctor, has said that all the attention given to the dangers of football—especially youth football— may be an exaggeration. While there are areas where the sport can improve in terms of safety, Maroon asserted that young people are more likely to face more risks when riding a bike or a skateboard.

Critics say that Maroon may be downplaying the dangers of football. The questions raised by the public require answers. Has American football turned into a too dangerous sport for its players? Is there a need to rethink and change how the game is played? How should governing bodies step in and prevent further harm from befalling the athletes? Evidently, more research is needed in order to identify how exactly athletes sustain brain damage as they play the game, and the safety of all should be the primary concern of those governing the sport.

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Will McHale played as quarterback for La Courneuve Flash in France. For more articles about American football, follow this Facebook page.

REPOST: The end zone

It’s a well-known fact that many people watch and enjoy football. This article from The Economist discusses the future of American Football and how long its popularity among people will last.

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BY THE time it is over, more than half a billion chickens will have given their lives so that their wings might be dipped in barbecue sauce. Enough avocados will be eaten, mashed into guacamole, to lay a trail from Seattle to Boston and back, four times. Even those who think sport is silly must pause to acknowledge the Super Bowl. The ten most watched television broadcasts in American history have all been Super Bowls, as have the next ten. By a conservative estimate, 112m Americans watched it last year. The number who will see the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots on February 1st is slightly more than the number who say they attend church once a week. Many churches have given up competing and instead throw Super Bowl parties as a way of expanding the flock.

This year’s contest has many subplots that have required the intervention of politicians. Joe Biden, the vice-president, was asked to comment about the underinflated balls used in the semi-final by the Patriots (“Deflategate”). He revealed that he too prefers a softer ball. Serious people questioned whether it was good politics for Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey and aspiring candidate for the White House, to be photographed hugging the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. All this is frivolous, but it cuts through to voters in a way that budget maths does not.

The mingling of football and politics stretches back to the turn of the century, when Theodore Roosevelt, who worried that a fondness for billiards had made the country’s ruling class soft, brokered a deal to make football safer. The three most recent Republican presidents were all cheerleaders, before that activity came to be considered girlie. Hunter S. Thompson once spent most of an hour talking football with Richard Nixon. “Whatever else might be said about Nixon—and there is still serious doubt in my mind that he could pass for human,” wrote Thompson, “he is a goddam stone fanatic on every facet of pro football.”

Though it may not seem like it, the days of politicians using football to relate to ordinary Americans are numbered. This Super Bowl has an extra edge because it is the first since actuaries for the NFL, which runs the professional game, estimated that a third of ex-pros may eventually suffer brain damage. Put another way, 35 men on the pitch in Phoenix can be expected to endure early-onset Alzheimer’s ordementia pugilistica for the entertainment of everyone else. (The NFL agreed to set up a fund to compensate players with brain injuries in 2013.)

Because football is so widely followed, it is also a starting point for bigger arguments about America. When Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was filmed punching his girlfriend unconscious in a lift, the incident sparked debate about whether football rewards violence; about domestic abuse; about the rewards for inept executives (Roger Goodell, who bungled the NFL’s response, was paid $35m in 2013); and about the oddities of tort law (Mr Rice won millions for wrongful dismissal after the Ravens fired him). The discovery of a manual issued to cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills, known as the Jills—filled with rules for everything from etiquette (“Do not be overly opinionated”) to advice on how to care for “intimate areas”—prompted a debate about whether cheerleading is demeaning and whether the pompom-wavers should be paid. Some, amazingly, are not.

Many of the charges thrown at football are bogus. The link between the sport and violence off the pitch is spurious: violent crime has been declining since the early 1990s, since when football has become even more popular. The notion that the sport is racist because the players risking injury are mostly black and the fans mostly white ignores the fact that the game is the only one followed with equal fanaticism by black and white America, or the possibility that adoring a player of a different race might be a more powerful force for good than any number of affirmative-action initiatives. As for the Jills, some of their manual is practical and, in parts—“never use words/ phrases such as: like, I seen it, you’s guys, dude, them guys, pee and ain’t”—interchangeable with The Economist’s rules for its journalists.

Crunch time

The maiming of so many of football’s professional players is different, because it is an objection to the game itself. The NFL players’ union says that the average length of a professional career is just under three and a half years. Watching a big hit on a player now comes with the same twinge of guilt as watching clips of Muhammad Ali being pummelled. Though high-school players are less likely to suffer brain damage, some school teams were forced to end their seasons early last year because so many children had been injured. Almost half of parents say they would not allow their sons to play the game, a feeling shared by Barack Obama. Nor is it easy to see how the rules could be changed to reduce the risk of brain damage in the professional game to an acceptable level.

Yet the sport will not continue to be both as popular as it is now and as dangerous. Those who dismiss football-bashers like Malcolm Gladwell, who compared the sport to dog-fighting in the New Yorker, as elitist east-coast types should remember that football began as a form of organised riot on the campuses of elitist east-coast colleges. Changes in taste can trickle down as well as bubble up. During the second half of the 20th century boxing went from being a sport watched together by fathers and sons to something that dwells among the hookers and slot machines of Nevada. Hollywood’s output of Westerns peaked in the late 1960s, after which the appeal of spending a couple of hours watching tight-lipped gunslingers in pursuit of an ethnic minority waned. Football will go the same way.

Check out more stories about football and baseball by following this Will McHale Google+ page.

Remembering ‘Mr. Cub’: Friends and fans pay tribute to Ernie Banks

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Friends, fans, and people whose lives have been touched by Ernie Banks flocked to his memorial service in Chicago early this year. The service was attended by hundreds of fans, baseball dignitaries, and political leaders, with many more watching the service on TV.

Banks died of a heart attack on January 23, shortly before his 84th birthday, after a long and fulfilling career as a baseball player and ambassador of baseball and of the city of Chicago.

Reactions to his passing and tributes to his legendary career were immediate and widespread.

The Chicago city government made the unprecedented gesture of moving Banks’ statue from storage, where it was kept while Wrigley Field was being renovated, to Daley Plaza, where fans congregated to pay tribute. The Blue Cross-Blue Shield Tower’s lights, spelled out “Mr. Cub” and his retired uniform number “14” in blue and white lights.

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel issued a statement on Banks’s passing, saying, “Ernie Banks was more than a baseball player. He was one of Chicago’s greatest ambassadors.”

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Mr. Sunshine

“It’s a beautiful day, let’s play two!” was Banks’ most famous saying.

Banks, also called “Mr. Cub” and “Mr. Sunshine” by fans, was known for his selflessness and unshakable optimism. He began his career in baseball in the Negro Baseball Leagues in 1950. After serving two years in the military, he returned to baseball and was eventually drafted in the majors, and signed up with the Chicago Cubs in 1953. He was one of the few players from the Negro Leagues who went on to play in the majors without going through the minor league. He was the Cubs’ first black player and was credited with helping to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. He endured the same hardships that other black players went through in those days, but his smile never seemed to waver. “He disarmed his enemies with optimism,” Rev. Jesse Jackson said during the memorial service.

Banks went on to play exclusively for the Cubs for the rest of his career. He was named MVP twice, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2013.

Banks’ family set up a Facebook page, “Ernie Bank Remembered,” where people can continue to share their fond memories of Banks. “He loved people and wanted to hear their stories,” the Banks family attorney, Mark Bogen said.

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Will McHale is an avid sports fan and athlete, having served as an assistant coach for La Courneuve Flash in Paris. Like this Facebook page for more sports news and updates.

REPOST: The Renaissance Of Baseball’s Ivy League Control Pitchers

Many coaches and baseball scouts are seeing the need for control pitchers in their team. This article from Forbes discusses the renaissance of Ivy League baseball control pitchers.


In an era when Major League Baseball scouts have become increasingly obsessed with radar guns and pitching velocity, a pair of Ivy League control pitchers — Kyle Hendricks and Chris Young — have emerged as two of the game’s top hurlers despite throwing fastballs that often top out below 90 miles per hour.  Think that’s a fluke?  Two more Ivy League finesse pitchers, Matthew Bowman andBrent Suter, are experiencing similar success in the high-level minor leagues.

Over the past two months, Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks has quickly emerged as the poster boy for the renaissance of the Ivy League control pitcher — smart, crafty, and in control.   In his first seven Major League starts, Hendricks has posted a record of five wins and one loss, with a minuscule 1.48 Earned Run Average.  Hendricks has only allowed more than one earned run once in his Major League career — in his big-league debut at Cincinnati on July 10.  Since that date, he’s been as stingy with runs as any hurler in the game.

Make no doubt, Kyle Hendricks’s fastball does not light up the radar gun.  By Major League standards, it is not even likely to be described as “fast.”  According to ESPN , Hendricks’s average fastball travels at just 87.2 miles per year.  But his ability to mix his pitches and throw strikes has led to great success.

An economics major at Dartmouth College, Hendricks ranked 11th on Dartmouth’s win list before he was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the eighth round of the 2011 Major League Baseball draft. Last season at Double-A ball (two levels below the Major Leagues), Hendricks earned the Cubs honor of Minor League Pitcher of the Year, posting a 10-3 record and a 1.85 E.R.A.  He has since continued similar mastery at both Triple-A and in the big leagues.

Yet, Hendricks is not the only Ivy League pitcher who is turning heads on the mound this season.

Enter Chris Young — a six-foot-10 veteran pitcher who played for both the Princeton Tigers baseball and basketball teams back in 1999.

After arm injuries forced Chris Young to miss all of the 2013 season, the Princeton alumnus is arguably having the best year of his career at the age of 35.  With a 12-6 record and a 3.69 E.R.A, Young is mastering opposing batters through his strong command of the strike zone and his ability to effectively change speeds.  Early in his career, Chris Young threw a fastball that occasionally hit 90 miles per hour.  This year, his success has come despite barely hitting “85″ on the gun.

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A much younger Chris Young, throwing for the San Diego Padres | Image Source:

Behind Hendricks and Young on the list of promising Ivy League control pitchers are at least two others.

Down on the New York Mets farm, most scout are all hollering about Noah Syndergaard and his hard fastball.  However, statistically speaking, Syndergaard has not been the top performing Mets minor league prospect.  That honor actually goes to Matthew Bowman — a 23 year old Princeton graduate who was selected by the Mets in the thirteenth round of the 2012 draft and has quickly moved his way up through the minor leagues.  Like Hendricks, Bowman was a student of economics, who actually completed his degree in the off-seasons after signing his first big-league contract.

For his minor league career, Bowman has a 21-14 record and just a 2.87 E.R.A.  Bowman is currently pitching in Triple-A — the highest minor league level below the Major Leagues.  Pitching in a home ballpark in Las Vegas known for high altitude and cheap home runs,  Bowman has allowed just 1.74 earned runs per game over the course of his first five starts — an exceptional statistical line anywhere, and nearly three runs per game better than the Mets more well-known pitching prospect, Syndergaard.

Bowman does throw a bit harder than Young and Hendricks, so some baseball purists would argue whether it is fair to call him a control pitcher.  Rumor has it that he can occasionally throw near 95 miles per hour on a radar gun.  But much like Hendricks and Young, it is not Bowman’s fastball speed that makes him successful.  More impressive is his just 65 walks in 282 minor league innings.

Finally, further down in the minor leagues at Double-A is former Harvard University finesse pitcher Brent Suter.  Like the three other Ivy League pitchers mentioned, Suter is  turning heads for the Milwaukee Brewers this season with a broad repertoire of off-speed pitchers that he can throw for strikes.  Arguably cut from the same mold as Young and Hendricks Suter got off to a great start this year with an E.R.A. locked at 2.55 on June 1.

As of late, Suter has struggled.  But he is a lefty, meaning that perhaps the Brewers organization will cut him a little bit more slack to develop.

It’s difficult to predict with any certainty the ultimate career trajectories of Hendricks, Young, Bowman and Suter.  However this much seems certain: in a sport where so many scouts have turned to fastball speed as the proxy for pitching success, a hard, crisp fastball is not the only way to earn wins on the mound.

For each of  these four former Ivy League pitchers, their success has called into doubt the longstanding mantra of baseball scouts that the secret to Big League success is all in the radar gun.  None of these four pitchers have achieved their level of success through throwing hard fastballs.  Rather, each has achieved success through finesse and precision, much like some of Major League Baseball’s greatest hurlers before then, a la Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina.

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Football vs. Rugby: Knowing the difference

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As strange as it may sound, there are still people who do not know the difference between American football and Rugby. The similarities between the two sports are fairly obvious. Both are high contact sports, and many players are at an increased risk of injury because of the physical hazards of colliding with one another or falling down. Either sport also involves a group of individuals chasing and tossing a ball across a field.

But this is where the similarities end.

American football is a sport consisting of two teams; each composed of 11 players. The goal of each team is to advance the ball to the opponent’s end zone. Rugby, on the other hand, is a hybrid sport, and can be faithfully described as a fusion of American football, soccer, and basketball. There are two teams in Rugby, with each team composed of 15 players. While the end goal of Rugby is the same (to get the ball in the opponent’s goal line), players of Rugby typically do not wear protective gear and play against each other in standard sportswear. This means that Rugby players do not wear helmets, arm bands, or anything that may restrict their vision or movement.

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The logic behind this seemingly irresponsible decision is that Rugby players need to be more agile than their American football counterparts. While many defensive (and offensive) systems require American footballers to crash against one another, Rugby strategies typically involve being faster than, and running away from, the opponent. However, this also means that Rugby players are more prone to injury.

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Lastly, Rugby is a popular sport and is played worldwide, while American football, as the name suggests, is only played in America.

Will McHale lives, eats, and breathes football; having played for his college team. Learn more about him by subscribing to this blog.

Save a life, donate bone marrow through PBSCT

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When people talk of bone marrow donations, they mean one of two things: an actual bone marrow transplant (BMT) during which a sample of bone marrow is removed from the pelvic area of the donor, or peripheral blood stem cell transplantation (PBSCT) which draws stem cells from the blood of the donor. The latter is more commonly used.

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Bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue inside major bones. When a person agrees to donate bone marrow, doctors will extract hematopoietic stem cells from his or her blood. These stem cells are important in blood production and help treat life-threatening illnesses, like leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and immune system disorders. PBSCT is also often necessary after undergoing a procedure that damages healthy cells, such as chemotherapy, to boost the production of healthy blood cells.

While most doctors prefer using bone marrow from close relatives of the patients, not all of them have relatives that are matches. Bone marrow registries are set up to form a database of people willing to donate. If a patient needs a transplant, a donor from the registry with a matching human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type is contacted. HLA is a protein marker that plays an important part in the body’s immune response to the transplanted cells. The donor’s HLA must be as close of a match as possible to minimize the chances of the patient’s body rejecting the transplant.

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For PBSCT donations, donors will need to receive a daily injection for several days prior to the procedure to stimulate the production of stem cells in their blood. During the donation itself, donors will be hooked up to a machine that separates the stem cells from their blood and returns the filtered through an IV. This process is called apheresis and can last from two to five hours. The process often needs to be repeated.

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PBSCT has few risks and is relatively painless. But most importantly, it has the potential to save lives. PBSCT donations might seem like an inconvenience, but to someone suffering from a blood disease, it is the greatest gift that one can give.

Will McHale served as co-chair of the Yale Bone Marrow Registration Drive, helping add more than 2,000 people to the national bone marrow registry. For more discussions on bone marrow donation, follow this Twitter account.