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Spare a Cerebellum?
Adam Duerson
October 06, 2008
Ex-wrestler collects brains for research
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October 06, 2008

Spare A Cerebellum?

Ex-wrestler collects brains for research

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WHY WOULD anyone donate his brain to Chris Harvard? A few years ago Harvard was a WWE wrestler, a smarty-pants who wore a varsity jacket and had a signature move called the Honor Roll. Not surprisingly, Harvard really wasn't Harvard—his real name is Chris Nowinski—but he did graduate cum laude from Harvard, where he was an All--Ivy League defensive lineman. After retiring in 2004, Nowinski, 30, became a health-care consultant.

Still, he wasn't an example of mens sana in corpore sano. Nowinski was still dealing with the effects of at least six concussions he had suffered. His first, he says, made him forget friends' names. After his second he saw an orange light. Further head injuries led to depression and sleepwalking. Eager to learn more about his condition, Nowinski began researching concussions, and he became a crusader for awareness of the problems they cause. In 2006 he wrote a book, Head Games, and he works with Boston University doctors who have established a link between sports concussions and a form of dementia called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. In '07 he cofounded the Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit that studies brain injuries in athletes.

Last week the SLI and BU announced that 12 current and former pro athletes who have suffered concussions, including former NFLers Ted Johnson and Frank Wycheck (left) and Florida Panthers defenseman Noah Welch, have agreed to donate their brains for research. Nowinski was instrumental in persuading the athletes to donate. "A few people cut me off and said, 'So you want my brain?'" says Nowinski. "But the usual answer is 'Sure. I'm not going to need it when I'm dead.'" BU is hoping to eventually build a brain bank with at least 100 specimens.

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