Former WVU neurosurgery chair says “Concussion” is accurate

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A leading national researcher on the effects of multiple concussions and other head injuries on the brain says he believes those who have played football the longest are at the greatest risks of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.

“This is like smoking so many packs of cigarettes. I think it is the exposure through the years and I think it’s primarily ones that have played many, many years,” said Dr. Julian Bailes on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

For college football players, “I think it’s (CTE) a very low risk. I think there have only been a small handful reported, found at autopsy to have these changes and, I think, the real risk is not in high school or college or youth.”

The real risk, according to Bailes who has extensively studied the issue, is at the professional football level.

Dr. Julian Bailes
Dr. Julian Bailes

Now the chairman of neurosurgery at NorthShore University HealthSystem and co-director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Illinois, he previously served for 11 years as professor and chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at West Virginia University’s School of Medicine.

Alec Baldwin portrays Bailes in the new movie “Concussion” which premiered earlier this week. The film will be released nationally on Christmas Day.

It tells the true story of the discovery of CTE in football players and the struggle to bring that information to the public.

“The movie is accurate,” Bailes said. “They say some things that I don’t recall saying by my character and some minor things but, basically, the facts and timeline are absolutely correct.”

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a condition of brain damage which persists over a period of years or decades. It’s the result of repeated traumatic impacts to the cranium leading to brain deterioration and loss of mass.

“Concussion” follows Doctor Bennet Omalu, played by Will Smith, the forensic neuropathologist who first discovered the progressive degenerative disease in the NFL’s Mike Webster, a player with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs who died in 2002.

That was the year Omalu, Bailes and Robert Fitzsimmons founded the Brain Injury Research Institute to study and find ways to prevent traumatic brain injuries and CTE.

Parts of “Concussion” were filmed in Pittsburgh in Oct. and Nov. 2014. In addition to Baldwin and Smith, other actors in the movie include Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Stephen Moyer, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Luke Wilson and Albert Brooks.

Bailes predicts the film will raise awareness about CTE.

“I think it will reach a much broader audience and let people see for themselves what we went through, what the emerging science was and, in the end, realize that the science, thankfully, did prevail,” he said.

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