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CTE Hope wants prevention and early detection of concussions

Brenda Easter reads an excerpt of her son's story. (Photo: Steffi Lee)
Brenda Easter reads an excerpt of her son's story. (Photo: Steffi Lee)
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Ask Brenda Easter about her son and she'll call him "remarkable."

"The fact that he took time and recognized what he was going through, he probably knew more than the doctors he saw," Easter said.

Her son, Zac Easter, was a dedicated athlete in Indianola.

"As his mother, I knew there were times there was something very wrong and when I would ask him about it, he would say I'm fine," Easter said.

The football player suffered seven documented concussions, through sports, his time in the National Guard and from a car accident.

He died in 2015. Researchers say CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, can only be discovered after death. Zac had asked his family to donate his brain to science, Easter said. They eventually confirmed he had signs of CTE.

"His last wishes to his family and friends was to help spread the word about CTE," Easter said. "About how dangerous it is and the devastation it causes to people who have it."

Now, Easter and a team of scientists from Simpson College have started a non-profit called CTE Hope, to fulfill Zac's last wish of spreading education about the dangers of concussions. The group held its first presentation Sunday evening to a crowd of athletes, parents and athletic trainers.

"We know that there are a lot of young athletes out there, lots of young parents trying to figure out what to do," Easter said.

Mike Hadden, a professor in the Department of Sports Science and Health Education at Simpson, is working on studying concussions, CTE and protein degradation. He's teamed up with Sue Wilson, who was Zac's athletic trainer, to study why some concussions and other head traumas can lead to CTE, and why some don't.

That's only one aspect of the non-profit organization's goals. Hadden has applied for a grant through the National Institutes of Health to eventually conduct sideline exams where they can use saliva and blood tests to detect concussions.

Hadden and Wilson said in their presentations that parents, coaches and trainers must advocate for athletes to not return to the game too soon if they've been injured.

Easter says the brain is an extremely sensitive area, but hopes Zac's journals can help researchers understand the different symptoms and moods that come from the long term impacts of head traumas.

CTE Hope also strives to present legislation to lawmakers. An anti-concussion sports bill stalled out in the 2016 legislative session, but Easter says the organization won't back down because it's necessary to have all safety measures in place for sports.

Easter says she wants to be clear that her family isn't against contact sports like football. However, she wants to see them become safer.

"What we do know now, the things that we didn't know then...had we known, we would've made different decisions and that's what we need to help families with," she said.

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You can find the organization's Facebook page here.

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