Football was very good to me. I loved the sport and found success as a Hall of Fame middle linebacker at BYU. Hitting and being hit, the comradery, the crowds, everything about it felt so good. Unfortunately, I paid a heavy price for my success on the field. Beginning in my early 40’s, I started experiencing unusually high levels of anxiety, worry, and anger. Unnecessary conflict with my wife and others made me wonder what was happening. After experiencing these ever-increasing CTE-like symptoms for several years, I visited a neurologist in 2013 and was diagnosed with significant brain damage as a result of playing the sport I loved. Several years later I visited with and was told by the top researchers in CTE at Boston University (Drs. McKee, Sterns and Cantu) that there is no real treatment, and the best I could hope for was to medicate the symptoms. My future looked very bleak. My marriage was being threatened and my will to keep going was decreasing every day. The sport that brought me so much joy was slowly destroying me and everything I held precious.
This accelerating decline in my mental health kept me searching for some type of hope. A desperate email to, and subsequent referral from Dr. McKee, led me to discovered near infrared light in a small office on the 12th floor at the Boston VA Hospital. Prior to this, I had exercised for 50 years, used medication, meditation, prayer, yoga, diet, and avoided alcohol and illegal drugs, but nothing slowed the diseases’ insidious progression. Fortunately, because of Dr. McKee’s referral, I was accepted into a 24-week research project at the VA using near infrared light (PBM) that up until then had focused on Gulf War veterans. The researchers were interested in trying the technology on an ex-football player with possible CTE. What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. I experienced incredible results, surprising even the researchers, and my data, as the first ex-football player to use this treatment, has been presented at several international conferences.
After this experience, I wanted to share what I had found with anyone who would listen, with my ultimate goal to save football. Brain injury and disease is THE issue that threatens the sport. The problem was most people responded to me with a pat on my back and a comment that they were happy I found something that worked for me. But I knew this was different, and I had the academic training and hard scientific data to prove that this technology had great promise, far beyond my health and even football. If it could help with CTE like symptoms, why not other neurodegenerative diseases. If it affected the brain in such a positive way, perhaps it could even prevent the brain damage that occurs in active players and avoid the disease altogether. However, I had to get help to validate it. With the publication of a couple of newspaper articles along with my personal data, I was able to gain the attention of top researchers at the University of Utah Medical School to take a serious look at this technology.
So here we are, 2 years later and in the middle of several research projects, with several more planned at 2 major universities and conducted by internationally respected researchers. The preliminary results from the completion of our initial study of ex-collision athletes at the University, suggests my personal response to the application of light was not an anomaly.
While we do not have all the testing analyzed from our first pilot study, the early results suggest improvement in:
- Emotional resilience/depression
- Memory sequencing
- Inhibition control/impulsively
- Better sleep – +1 hour/night
- Possible performance improvement- (anecdotal and currently under investigation.)
Thus far, the treatment of shinning near infra-red light on the heads of these ex-athletes has shown a 100% (21/21) success rate in improving the emotional state of the subjects with no negative side effects. In addition, several of the athletes who continued to exercise during the treatments, reported significant improvement in their personal training effectiveness. As a researcher, I am required to quell my enthusiasm, and make sure I am not claiming this treatment will work on everyone in the same manner. However, as an Exercise Physiologist who has consulted with NFL Super Bowl Champions, and as an ex-football player who has looked into the emotional despair and blackness caused by CTE, I believe more than ever that this technology holds great promise for so many. Even before all the results are analyzed, I feel strongly that every tackle football player, regardless of age, needs to use transcranial infrared light regularly! But not just football, every person experiencing repetitive collisions over time, no matter how minor and apparently inconsequential, could benefit. And if we find that the light improves physical performance measures as we are seeing anecdotally, coupled with the cognitive benefits, the Vielight transcranial device becomes an absolute necessity for athletes across many sports! Mothers will demand it, and coaches interested in their players brain health as well as in cutting edge technology that will improve performance will insist on incorporating it into their program.
At the University of Utah, we have raised a significant amount of money to study this technology with ex-collision athletes. In addition, at BYU we have just completed a pilot study on several members of the woman’s soccer team, and we are scheduled to study members of the football team this summer and fall. The importance of this research cannot be understated. Tom Holmoe, BYU’s Athletic Director, called what we are doing at his school, “very important work,” in my mind showing why he was recognized as the top AD in the country. As an ex-NFL player himself, he understands the need to provide a safe environment for current athletes as well as solve this critical issue of brain health by supporting this research. However, we are in need of additional funding for the research at BYU. We have funds to begin the work but are well short of being able to take full advantage of the opportunity. If this technology can be shown to mitigate the brain damage that occurs over the course of a season of tackle football, this really could be the answer football has been looking for. This is so much more than a pat on the back.