Boogaard family donates NHL enforcer’s brain to science

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Randy Starkman – The

May 14, 2011

Former NHL star Keith Primeau choked up a bit as he contemplated that Derek Boogaard may have saved his biggest assist for last.

Boogaard’s family told the Minneapolis StarTribune on Saturday night that they were donating the New York Ranger enforcer’s brain to the Boston University research group doing groundbreaking work in studying degenerative brain disease in athletes.

Primeau, who is donating his brain to the same study, expressed the hope earlier in the day while on the XM Home Ice radio show that the Boogaards would make such a decision.

When told by the Star the Boogaards were going ahead with the donation, Primeau was touched by the gesture.

“I suppose I can only imagine how difficult a time this must be first of all, and then to be presented with this type of dilemma,” said Primeau, who still suffers symptoms five years after his last concussion. “For me personally, I become very emotional when I hear these types of acts. It’s such an important subject for me. I did it because of the hope some day it has the ability to make a difference.”

Primeau, who runs a website, said the Boogaards were likely motivated by the desire to help the cause and to get some insight into a tragedy that has rocked the hockey world.

“For a family and the parents, you want to know. I’m sure they’re looking for answers, too,” said the 14-year NHLer. “I extremely hope this will help them get some answers either way and help in the healing process.”

Boogaard’s brother Ryan told reporter Michael Russo of the Star Tribune that his brother’s concussion issues spurred their parents Len and Joanne to sign the papers Saturday night to donate their oldest son’s brain to the study.

“Derek loved sports and obviously in particular hockey, so we believe Derek would have liked to assist with research on a matter that had affected him later on in his career,” Ryan Boogaard told Russo.

Boogaard played only 22 games for the Rangers last season because of post-concussion symptoms, but there’s no evidence the problems caused his death at age 28.

“The biggest reason people are reeling and for there to be questions is because he was so young,” said Primeau, now 39. “Aside from the fact he had a little bit of concussion problems and difficulty towards the end this year, it just brings everybody’s vulnerability into play. Certainly, the league and its members and friends and family are in disbelief today.”

The Boston University Medical School and the Sports Legacy Institute is at the forefront of examining the concussion epidemic in sports. On the hockey side, they determined that former NHLers Bob Probert and Reggie Fleming had the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) when they died. CTE is believed to be caused by repetitive brain trauma.

Primeau said the idea of donating your brain to science is finding less and less resistance among athletes.

“It’s become more accepted and very important. When I first told my brother that I was donating my brain, he was a little appalled, a little grossed out by the whole thing. But ultimately what the brain is is the most important organ, the most vital organ in the human body. And the more information we can garner, the more we can understand, the better we can fight head injuries and the difficulties people face through post concussion.”–boogaard-family-donates-nhl-enforcer-s-brain-to-science