Did Football Damage NFL Player Nate Chittick’s Heart and Brain?

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Playing Wife of Former NFL Player Nate Chittick Shares Football Took His Life

Kelsey Chittick, the wife of former NFL player Nate Chittick, tells The Doctors her late husband and their family "paid a huge price" for his career as a professional athlete.

Kelsey says after Nate retired from the NFL he intended to lose weight, but she says he struggled to drop down from the size he needed to maintain while playing. Four years ago, when Nate was 42, he died from cardiomyopathy, which is an acquired or hereditary disease of the heart muscle and makes it hard for the heart to deliver blood to the body and can lead to heart failure. Kelsey was told by his doctor that often due to a football player's size and the physical demands of the sport, a player's heart can be severely stressed.

In addition to cardiomyopathy, Nate was also suffering from stage 2 chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- or CTE -- which Kelsey discovered after having his brain tissue checked. It was determined he had brain lesions and Kelsey says the nature of the degenerative disease would have made Nate and their family's life miserable.

"His heart attack killed him, but the CTE would have killed all of us," she tells The Doctors.

CTE symptoms can include cognitive impairment, memory loss, organization issues, impulsive behavior, aggression, depression, emotional instability, substance misuse, and suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Now, knowing what a career on the field did to her husband, Kelsey says she will not let any of her children play football. "I don't think I could have watched [my son] take hits because now I know too much," she says of the idea of her son Jack playing football. She says instead of football, her son plays basketball.

To better understand what takes place inside the brain during a head injury, brain injury expert Dr. Daniel Amen explains that the brain's consistency is similar to "soft butter" and that the skull is made up of very hard bones, which can be very dangerous when playing a rough contact sport like football. 

"It's just not rational to subject children to contact sports," he says, noting on average, football players experience 1 concussion per year and explains it is not just the major head injuries that players need to worry about, telling The Doctors the repetitive minor head injuries can also take a serious toll on the health of the brain.

Dr. Amen has documented how playing football can lead to significant damage to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which rules impulse control, judgment, and forethought. Additionally, players can experience damage to their temporal lobes, which is linked to learning, memory, and temper control. 

For parents out there with a child expressing interest in playing a contact sport like football, psychiatrist Dr. Ish Major recommends making them a part of the discussion and process of deciding what is best for them, their safety, and their long-term health. He says making sure they understand how it could affect their health for the rest of their life is important.

Kelsey adds, "Once we know better, we have to do better and it's our job to tell the truth about what the side effects [of this sport] can be and figure out new ways to walk through it."

Read more about Kelsey’s story in her book “Second Half: Surviving Loss and Finding Magic in the Missing.” Plus, find out if it is possible for someone to heal from a traumatic brain injury, here.

Watch: Former NFL Player Nate Chittick Diagnosed with CTE Posthumously

Watch: Is It Safe for Kids to Play Football?

Watch: What Happens to Your Brain When You Play Contact Sports

Watch: Can You Heal a Broken Brain?

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Playing Psychiatric Problems Can Be Caused by Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries

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