ABLETT: I HAVE BRAIN DAMAGE
EXCLUSIVE JON ANDERSON
AFL legend Gary Ablett Sr has revealed a diagnosis of “significant structural and functional brain damage” in the wake of his storied 248-game career.
Ablett, 61, spoke on Saturday for the first time publicly of “headaches and skull pressure”, a condition that became migraines, insomnia, blurred vision, memory loss, anxiety, fatigue and severe depression.
Having read of the increasing number of former players afflicted, Ablett in November underwent a Swinburne Neuroimaging Facility scan used by the US military with an estimated accuracy of 90 per cent.
“I began getting headaches and pressure in the top of my skull around 2010, initially a few days a week,” he said.
“It then led to depression, anxiety and extreme fatigue.
“Under the advice of doctors I then had numerous scans to try and find the cause of headaches and skull pressure. Those type of scans couldn’t pick up CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) so in a way it’s relieving to at least have identified the problem.”
“From 2015 onwards, and almost every day, there were signs that things had changed, then about 12 months ago I started getting symptoms that alarmed me to the point where I contacted Peter Jess (Ablett’s former manager), who I’m aware has been a concussion advocate for a number of past players.
“I told him of my concerns and Peter helped organise an MEG scan that American military use. It showed I have significant structural and functional brain damage.
“I’ve since been seeing a psychiatrist named Dr John Perica once a month and receiving some new medical treatment that’s been helping reduce the headaches and improving my mood.”
The Australian Football Hall of Famer, who kicked 1025 goals from 1984 to 1996, had been helping provide meals for the needy on Geelong’s surf coast, but in recent months has been unable to work.
He approached the AFL Players Association for financial help but says his requests were met with silence.
“After providing them with all the information four months ago they just started avoiding me and not getting back to me which I find extremely disappointing and disrespectful,” he said.
“I feel I made a significant contribution to the game over 16 years of VFL and AFL football so it seems I’m not the only one with memory problems.
“And while I certainly don’t want to bring the game into disrepute or damage the image of the game, I’m really wanting to reveal these issues more for awareness and other players who may be experiencing the same problems.
“I acknowledge the AFL have done a tremendous job in cleaning up the game and minimising head contact and knocks as much as possible, however back when I played head knocks and injuries were far more common. Obviously I was a very physical player and while I only got totally knocked out eight to 10 times, I experienced being semi-concussed, such as ears ringing and out of it for a few minutes many dozens of times, but because you weren’t knocked completely out, you wouldn’t even bother mentioning it.”
Jess, the concussion crusader, points to the AFL’s lack of help to Ablett as a reason why the issue should be taken out of its hands.
“Clearly we need to separate the AFL’s oversight of health and welfare to an independent body of brain trauma experts to address what is a national sporting crisis,” Jess said.
“It requires collaboration of governments at all levels to fund a program. The two biggest biomedical centres in the NIH and CDC have publicly confirmed that repetitive collisions lead to CTE.
“If properly addressed some of these collisions are preventable but the AFL has sadly failed, meaning the decision-making process of the AFL needs to be made more accountable at every level.
“Gary Ablett’s scan showed structural and functional damage, and that should be paid for by the AFL. I contacted them and received a letter asking why should they fund the scan?
“The AFL is good at putting the game on but horrible at looking after the welfare of their past and current players, no better demonstrated than wasting $25m on a retrospective study that everybody knew what the outcome would be, which was if you play football you are a chance to suffer brain damage.
“What we need to do is spend $25m on finding ways to prevent concussion, such as the University of Cincinnati has done via a concussion prevention program where they have reduced concussion by 80 per cent in collision sports played on their campus.”
The AFLPA was unavailable for comment on Saturday, but has previously refused to discuss specific cases.