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Past Blast: Survivors SPEAK OUT! George Visger (former NFL player)

SPEAK OUT! George Visger (former player for the San Francisco 49ers)

Survivors SPEAK OUT! George Visger

(former NFL San Francisco 49ers player)

(originally published July 7, 2014)

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

 

#74 NFL San Francisco 49er, George Visger @ 1981

1. What is your name? (last name optional)

George Visger

2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)

Cypress, California, USA     visgergeorge@gmail.com

3. When did you have your TBI? At what age?

I was first injured – had surgery – at age 22 during the 1981 Super Bowl season with the San Francisco 49ers.

4. How did your TBI occur?

I had a number of concussions throughout my 12 years of playing organized football. My first serious concussion occurred at age 13, during my third year of Pop Warner. I was hospitalized on that one. My final, and most severe, concussion occurred in 1980 against the Dallas Cowboys. I suffered a major TBI in the first quarter, yet I never missed a play by the use of over 20 smelling salts during the game (or so I was told later in the week when my memory returned). I also never missed a practice. Several months later, early in the ‘81 season, I developed hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and underwent emergency VP (ventriculoperitoneal) shunt brain surgery at Stanford. I have since survived nine emergency VP shunt brain surgeries, including five in a nine-month period in ‘86-‘87 while completing my Biology degree. I have also had several gran mal seizures, and I have been on anti-seizure meds for over 30 years.

5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?

I realized I had a problem during the ‘81 season. I developed major headaches and projectile vomiting. I saw balls of light in front of each eye each night. The team doctors diagnosed me with high blood pressure and prescribed diuretics for over two weeks, until I suffered focal point paralysis of my right arm. The team doc diagnosed me in the locker room with a brain hemorrhage. I drove myself to the hospital, where I underwent emergency VP shunt brain surgery.

6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have (e.g., surgery,

tracheotomy, G-peg)?

I have had nine emergency VP shunt brain surgeries since then. They drilled a hole in my skull and installed a permanent drain tube, which runs to a pressure valve in the back of my head. They plumbed that to drain into my abdomen. I am also on Lamictil for seizures.

7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?

Nine months after my first shunt surgery, the shunt failed while I was fishing in Mexico with my brother. It took him a day to get me home, and I was in a coma from the pressure on my brain. I had two more brain surgeries ten hours apart and was given last rites. I was 23 at the time.

8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., In-patient or Out-patient and Occupational, Physical, Speech, Other)?

I was never offered rehab. In fact, I was forced to sue the 49ers for Work Compensation just to get my second and third brain surgeries paid for. Until now, it was brain surgery, out the door, and “See you next shunt failure.” I did use Vocational Rehabilitation Services when I returned to school in ‘86 to complete my Biology degree. But, I was on my own to rehab after each of the five brain surgeries that I had while finishing my degree. I discovered B.R.A.I.N. (Brain Rehabilitation And Injury Network) founded by Sue Rueb in Cypress, CA, last year while speaking at a TBI conference. I literally moved there last August to get daily treatments – first treatments I have ever had. I do neurocognitive therapy and Yoga therapy, and I counsel other TBI survivors, which helps me as well.

How long were you in rehab?

I’ve been rehabbing since August 2013.

9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your TBI (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?

I have gran mal seizures, MAJOR short-term memory issues, poor judgment, anger-management issues, loss of direction, poor concentration, problems getting my words out or thinking of the right word, numbness in extremities, constant headaches, vision problems when my shunt goes out, diminished hearing, personality changes, problems handling finances, and brain seizures from alcohol, to name a few.

10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?

I completed a Biology degree in 1990 at age 32 after eight brain surgeries, and I followed my second dream to be a wildlife biologist. I have never let my injury define me, and I thank God for it. I wouldn’t be where I am now had I not been injured. But recently, things have begun to spiral out of control. I lost my environmental consulting business (Visger & Associates, Inc.) in 2009, and I lost our house in 2011. My wife of nearly 19 years, and the mother of my children, and I are going through a divorce. It’s been too much for her.

Visger, George  2008-06-15 21.03.51

11. What do you miss the most from your pre-TBI life?

I miss my family. I miss being The Giant – the guy who “could do anything,” as my wife used to say. I miss being able to remember things. I literally do not remember numerous out-of-state bow-hunts, months of my life, kids’ activities, etc.

12. What do you enjoy most in your post-TBI life?

I enjoy being able to use my injuries to help others. I feel it is my God given mission in life now.

13. What do you like least about your TBI?

Loss of my marriage

14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?

I’ve been helped by my belief that God has a plan for me and that “something good comes out of everything.”

15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?

It has destroyed my marriage, and I lost my ability to provide for my family.

16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?

Social activities were impacted, as I liked to drink back in the day. Now the only impact is that I will forget to attend a social outing. I have never been embarrassed about my injuries. I’m just as goofy now as I was before my injury.

17. Who is your main caregiver?

I was single until my late 30’s, and I have been my main caregiver ever since. My mom stepped in for a few days during surgeries, and my older brother, whom I worked with, kept an eye on me. My wife has done what she could over the years, but she has never been through a surgery with me.

Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?

I understand better than most what it takes to be a caregiver. I also understand what caregivers go through. I call it the “Ripple Effect.” My family members and caregivers have taken a worse beating from my TBI than I have. It is much harder on our loved ones than it is on ourselves.

18. What are your future plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?

I founded The Visger Group – Traumatic Brain Injury Consulting in 2010, and I have spoken all over the country. I coordinate directly with the NFL on rule changes to reduce TBIs in football at all levels. I have spoken at congressional hearings, conduct motivational talks at schools and businesses, and currently am working with our veterans suffering from TBI. I am also suffering from frontal lobe dementia, and I hope to kick a few butts and rattle a few cages while I can, in hopes of changing the way the medical field treats TBI survivors and families. In ten years, I expect to be working with government agencies, our military, academics, and sports leagues. I plan to be leading and speaking at TBI-recovery groups.

19. Are you able to provide a helpful hint that may have taken you a long time to learn, but which you wished you had known earlier? If so, please state what it is to potentially help other TBI survivors with your specific kind of TBI.

George Visger #74  4th row from bottom, 2nd from right  @ 1981

George Visger #74
4th row from bottom, 2nd from right
@ 1981

In football, there is a saying: “Short, Choppy Steps.” If you over-stride, it’s easy for someone to knock you on your butt. You want to keep your butt down, your head up, and take short, powerful 12-inch strides. Forget about breaking long touchdown runs. Get the little things done each day, and you will reach your goals. If a football team only got four yards each play – no more, no less – they would never lose a game. Think about it. They would get a first down every three plays, and they would score every time they had the ball. Life is no different. You need long-term goals for sure: score a touchdown, win the game, win the Super Bowl. But, you will NEVER get there if you don’t get your four yards a carry. We sell wrist bands on our website (www.thevisgergroup) that say “Short, Choppy Steps” and another one we give to coaches and players that says “Use your head, DON’T use your head.” Focus on small daily victories, and you’ll win the game.

20. What advice would you offer to other TBI survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?

Keep in mind everyone has a cross to bear. Carry your cross; don’t let it carry you. All of us TBI survivors have a lot to give to everyone. Turn your negative into a positive and touch people’s lives. Focus on your positives. Work hard, and put it in God’s hands. It will all work out.

That’s all anyone can do.

You can learn more about George Visger on his blog and these YouTube videos.

George Visger Blog – Life Before and After Football

George Visger talks about his life in these videos:

The Damage Done — George Visger’s Concussions

Battle Scars: Stagg High Alum, Former 49er Fights on Despite Brain Injuries

George Visger addresses specific topics in these very short videos:

Visger-275x300

Do Helmets Give Football Players a False Sense of Safety?

Would This Retired NFL Player Do It Again?

Thank you, George, for taking part in this interview. I hope that your experience will offer some hope, comfort, and inspiration to my readers.

(Disclaimer: The views or opinions in this post are solely that of the interviewee.)

(Photo compliments of George.)

If you would like to be a part of this project, please go to TBI Survivor Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.

 

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(Photos compliments of contributor.)

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SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . Kickoff Rule Change in Ivy League Football Reduces Concussions

Kickoff Rule Change in Ivy League Football Reduces Concussions

presented

by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

ivy-leageThe Ivy League colleges have done an experiment that dramatically reduced the number of concussions during a kickoff, considered to be the most dangerous play in American football. The results were reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The results were so dramatic that the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) changed kickoff rules for its college games in 2018 after considering the Ivy League data. It is likely to be considering adopting the Ivy League rule change for all NCAA college football.

The kickoff return is dangerous because both the offensive kick-off-clipart-18-1and the defensive teams often have the time and space to build up speed before a tackle is made. Kickoffs account for about 6% of the plays in a football season, but they are responsible for 21% of the concussions. The NFL (National Football league), which sanctions the most prominent professional football, considered doing away with the kickoff altogether. In 2016, the coaches of the Ivy League college teams agreed to an experiment that minimized the runback by moving up the kickoff line 5 yards from the 35-yard line to the 40-yard line. This change led to more touchbacks, where the ball is kicked into or beyond the end zone. As a result, there were fewer runbacks.tackling-clipart-9-2

Statistics showed that the number of concussions occurring during kickoffs was significantly reduced after the rule change in 2016. The number of concussions went from 10.9 per 1000 kickoff plays before the rule change to 2.0 concussions per 1000 kickoff plays after the rule went into effect. Meanwhile, there was little change in the number of concussions from non-kickoff plays after the rule went into effect.

While this is an important improvement, the question remains: Why is anyone allowed to play a game that results in so many concussions and hits to the head? (Full story)

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SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . . Respected Broadcaster Bob Costas: Football “Destroys People’s Brains”

Respected Broadcaster Bob Costas: Football “Destroys People’s Brains”

presented

by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Bob Costas Sportcaster 2017

Bob Costas – Sportscaster

Emmy Award-winning and respected sports broadcaster Bob Costas, speaking as part of a panel at a symposium at the University of Maryland, stated that there are irreversible “cracks in the foundation” of the “juggernaut” and “cash machine” of American football that will eventually lead to a decrease in football’s stature.

He cited the work of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who found a degenerative brain disease in the brain of a deceased former Hall-of-Fame player of American football. He described the disease and named it chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). (Dr. Omalu’s story and the negative reaction of the National Football League are depicted in the movie “Concussion.” Will Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu.)

Dr. Bennet Omalu & Actor, Will Smith at opening of “Concussion”

The research at Boston University has shown that CTE is not uncommon in the autopsied brains of former players of American football. Their recent publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that CTE can be detected in the brains of not only professional football players, but also in the brains of college and high school players.

Costas said “The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains.” Concern is growing. Some players have retired early. Participation in youth tackle football leagues is declining, as parents struggle with the rapidly emerging and compelling evidence. Costas also said “… if I had an athletically gifted 12- or 13-year-old son, I would not let him play football.” Costas’ comments were supported Football Playerby those of ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser, who said that football is going the way of boxing. (Full story – listen to Costas and Kornheiser in the second video – minutes 24:03-29:50.)

 

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SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . . High School Football Game Forfeited After Nine Head Injuries

High School Football Game Forfeited After Nine Head Injuries

presented

by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

football-teamA high school football team from Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, forfeited its game after nine players left the game with possible head injuries. The coach took the precaution of having all players checked at the hospital. Before going to hospital, four players had already displayed symptoms of having a serious concussion (nausea, vomiting), and they still showed symptoms two days later when the article was written.

Illegal hits were not the problem, but the violence of football became even more obvious when the forfeiting team was clearly outmatched by its opponent.  The score was 35-0 about halfway through the game.

football13It is now known that players of US and Canadian football have a high risk of developing a brain injury, and the problem is particularly serious for youth, with their still-developing brains.  Concussions are the most obvious brain injury, but the multiple subconcussive hits common in US and Canadian football can also lead to brain damage, which may not become apparent for several years.  A highly-cited research paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the degenerative brain disease CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) was found in a low but significant fraction (21%) of players who only played football through high school. CTE was more commonly found (>90%) in the autopsied brains of players who played professionally or only through college. Even with a possible bias in the brains studied, the findings are alarming. As a result of the new knowledge, some players are retiring early (1,2), and parents are becoming concerned. (1. Full story and 2. my radio interview of Cyndy Feasel, Mary Seau, and Debra Pyka, all of whom lost a loved one to football)

onair

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SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . . NFL Rookie Retires

NFL Rookie Retires
(This news underscores the previous NewsBit.)

presented

by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

johnson_combine Clemson Safety Jadar Johnson was undrafted in the 2017 draft. As a Free Agent, though, he was signed by the New York Giants of the NFL (National Football League). Many thought he was a diamond-in-the-rough. DiamondJadar himself was excited and said he would do “whatever” it takes to become part of the team that the Giants field on Sundays. But, before he played a single regular-season game, he abruptly retired. His agent’s statement said “… and he values his health. …” Some say that Jadar retired because he became aware of the research on NFL brains recently published in the CTEJournal of the American Medical Association. That article showed that 99% of autopsied NFL brains (110/111) had the devastating and contact-sport-specific brain disease CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

 

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SPEAK OUT! News Bit . . . . . Football, Brain Injury & Kids

Football, Brain Injury & Kids

presented

by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

newsboy-thIs American football a dying sport? With football’s prominence in American culture, it seems safe to assume no one would predict that its days are numbered. But, there is a growing undercurrent that may eventually lead to the demise of football as we know it. There is more and more evidence that the constant subconcussive hits experienced by football players lead to a high risk of the brain disease CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). CTE can lead to early dementia, football12depression, suicidal thoughts, or problems with cognition, memory, or impulsive behavior.

Recently published by the Journal of the American Medical Association is more evidence of the enormous risk of developing CTE by playing American football. (CTE can at present only be confirmed upon studying brain tissue at autopsy, although research is being directed to finding a test that can detect CTE in the brains of living players.) A study of 202 brains of former football players was done by researchers at the VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University. They found CTE in 87% of all the brains studied. Of the 110 brains of former professional players in the NFL (National Football League, the premier professional football league in the US), 109 (99%) showed CTE. Playing only college football did not significantly reduce the risk of having CTE, which was found in 91% of the brains of former college players. Playing less football did seem to lower the risk. Only 27% of the brains of former players who played through high school, but no further, showed evidence of CTE. Also, the severity of CTE was probably less with less playing time.

brain4The results have important implications for players. Many players feel they’ve been left ignorant of the risks of brain injury by the NFL, or worse, assured by the league that there is minimal risk. [Some players have quit or retired early (1, 2). Recently, a class-action lawsuit about concussions brought by former players against the NFL was settled for $1 billion.] The NFL has argued, and most players and fans who know about CTE believe, that the brains being studied are biased toward CTE because the autopsied brains in large part are from players already suspected of having a brain injury. Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University researcher who has examined many of the brains, has stated that the results are staggering even for a biased sample (go to 1:35:58 in the video). She has stated, “It is no longer debatable whether or not there is a problem in football; there is a problem.”

Evidence of any CTE in high school football players is particularly disturbing (go to 1:29:08 in the video). Parents have taken note. Even though the NFL is actively promoting football directly to children, enrollment in youth football leagues is significantly down. Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered CTE by studying the brain of Mike Webster, the football-teamfamous Pittsburgh Steeler Center, wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times titled “Don’t Let Kids Play Football.” During my radio interview of George Visger, a former lineman for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers who had to quit the game because of a brain injury, he speculated that the preeminence of football in American society will disappear because the NFL’s talent pool will dry up. He speculates that the cost of liability insurance will be too high for youth football leagues to pay (go to 30 minutes into my interview of him).

There is no doubt that American football is exciting to watch, and there are many benefits to playing such a demanding team sport. But, difficult as it is to believe, it seems likely that the high risk of brain injury will eventually end the game.

 

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So, Whaddya Think? Opinion: Rethinking the Design of Football Helmets

So, Whaddya Think?

 My Opinion: Rethinking the Design of Football Helmets

by

David Lloyd

presented

by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

So Whaddya Think Brain th-4The reason for a hard helmet in American football is to prevent deaths from skull fractures. The attempts to make bigger and thicker helmets have been based on trying to absorb linear impact force, but that’s based on the faulty notion that linear impact force is related to brain injury (Condi, 2015).

It is the sudden rotation of the head that actually causes brain injury (Meaney, Morrison, & Bass, 2014). A bigger helmet “leverages” rotation, increasing the likelihood of brain injury (2016, January). We need to rethink helmet design entirely. I suggest using an artificial scalp (Aare, 2003), like the leather helmets from the 1930s (Stamp, 2012, October), with a springy, lightweight, carbon-fiber framework to absorb linear impact. The design should include guarding the mouth and chin.

11998344_873343152701235_1064470731_n

David Lloyd – Brain Injury Survivor

Another possibility would be a variation of the so-called “invisible helmet” (Haupt & Alstin, 2016), which is like the airbag in a car. Players would wear invisible-helmet-collars, which instantly expand to cushion the head upon impact. (While I think this could be a great idea for bicyclists, I suspect it would not work for football, but since it occurred to me just now, I thought I would include the idea.)

I would also put a couple of strategically placed, clear, and inexpensive disposable gelatin capsules in the helmet. These gelatin capsules would contain a bright-colored liquid dye in the center. When an impact is sharp enough to cause the gelatin capsule to release the dye, the capsule turns bright red (assuming a red dye was used) to indicate a possible brain injury. The moment a player’s dye-capsule breaks, that player is out of the game (possibly along with the opponent who hit the player). A light-sensor could trigger an electronic ID number to be broadcast instantly to officials, so an appropriate response could happen immediately. Every incident in which a dye-capsule is broken is recorded as a possible sub-concussive injury. Players with too many sub-concussive injuries can no longer play, regardless of apparent brain health.Gelatin Capsules.jpg

In addition, a smart phone-based application (Lathan, Spira, Bleiberg, Vice & Tsao, 2013) is used to test the player’s response times to a short series of tests, with scores compared with a baseline. Concussion is diagnosed on the field when the player’s test score is significantly different from his baseline. If a concussion is diagnosed, the player does not return to the field, and, at the discretion of the physician, the player may be treated with a neuroprotective drug, such as NeuroStat® (Campbell, Elmér, & Bronnegard, 2015), to prevent the death of neurons, which generally occurs before the symptoms of concussion are apparent.

th-1I think the Kevlar insert sounds like a very good idea. Put that layer next to the head, below the artificial scalp I suggested. This in turn is to be below a light weight, springy framework, which I imagined would absorb linear impact by rapidly changing shape and then dissipating the energy by vibrating. The artificial scalp layer, in addition to sliding to absorb rotational impact, would also insulate the player from damage due to the vibration energy.

The three most important issues are (1) detecting potential sub-concussive injuries when they happen and before they cause symptoms (via the gel-capsules), (2) protecting against skull-fracture, and (3) protecting against sharp rotation, which requires a helmet with a much smaller surface area.

Many studies (Kis, Saunders, Hove, & Leslie, 2004) over the years have concluded that protecting against linear impact is equivalent to protecting against rotational impact. If one reads only abstracts and conclusions from these studies, one may be led to believe rotational factors don’t need consideration. However, only recently have there been any attempts to measure rotational damage, and even in those cases, the tests actually measure linear impact from various angles. They assume it is possible to infer information about rotational impact from this information (Kis, Saunders, Irrcher, Tator, Bishop, & Hove, 2013).Concussion

I don’t believe a linear impact test provides any significant data regarding rotational injury to the brain. I think a meaningful test of rotational impact is with my dye-in-gelatin suggestion. It is simply not possible to design a laboratory test that can reliably measure all possible angles of force (Hernandez, Shull, & Camarillo, 2015) created in a multi-vector, real-situation impact. I have yet to see a meaningful test of damage caused by compression waves (Laksari, Wu, Kurt, Kuo, & Camarillo, 2015), which, depending on frequency, can be augmented by hard objects, such as helmets or even the skull itself. Create a clear-gel facsimile of a brain, add a few grapes to the gelatin to simulate denser areas of the brain, put it in a structure like a skull, wrap the skull in something analogous to skin and hair, and put THAT in a helmet. Then spin it, and drop it onto a fast-moving conveyor belt. Now count the fractures in the gelatin per cubic millimeter (using a microscope), and you will have BEGUN to create a meaningful model of what happens in a brain injury. It is likely that one cannot realistically study impact on the brain unless the artificial brain is connected by a neck to a body (Hernandez, Shull, & Camarillo, 2015).

I think attempting to reform the game would meet such extreme resistance that all kinds of misinformation would get published – obscuring the facts and preventing change. A better approach is to detect and track sub-concussive injuries before they compound to a level that threatens lives or affects mental performance.

Some are suggesting the elimination of football, but this “solution” makes no sense unless we eliminate all contact sports. I know boxing is much worse than football, in terms of the risk of brain injury. I’m pretty sure I could find evidence to indicate thatth-2 hockey and soccer are statistically more likely to cause brain injuries than football, but even basketball, track, wrestling, swimming, skating, ice skating, and even bicycling present similar dangers. [Actually, football is second only to cycling, followed by baseball and basketball for associated brain injuries (Sports-related Head Injury, 2014, August)]. In my mind, the greater danger to the collective health of the nation would be the elimination of these various sports (Devine, & Zafonte, 2009). Humans need to be active, and there is no way to eliminate the potential danger of living a healthy life.

 

So, Whaddya Think?

Let’s get a dialogue going. Post your comments in the Comment Section. Directions are below.

So . . . what do you think? Is there something you are passionate about in this Brain Injury (BI) world? Do you want to be heard? Your opinion matters! You can SPEAK OUT! on “So Whaddya Think?”

Simply send me your opinion, and I will format it for publication. Posts may be short, but please send no more than 500 words. Send to Neelyf@aol.com

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