In July 2019, tragedy struck when 18-year-old Wyatt Bramwell took his own life, mere months after graduating from high school. Approximately a year later, Boston University researchers uncovered a startling revelation during an autopsy of his brain: Wyatt had been silently battling stage 2 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE, a condition attributed to his years of playing tackle football.
His mother, Christie Bramwell, suspects that Wyatt was acutely aware of his condition when he made that fateful decision. He had deliberately shot himself in the heart, preserving his brain for donation to CTE research, as the only viable method for diagnosing the disease is through post-mortem brain examination.
Within Wyatt’s brain, researchers made an alarming discovery: the first-ever diagnosis of stage 2 CTE in a high school football player. Dr. Ann McKee, director of the Boston University CTE Center, who conducted the diagnosis, revealed that Wyatt exhibited the most severe brain trauma ever documented in someone so young, as noted by the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
“This is an example of a person with fairly advanced damage to his brain, given that he only played amateur football and his highest level was high school,” remarked Dr. McKee.
Wyatt’s affliction was the result of approximately a decade of tackle football, including four years of high school play. According to Bramwell, her son commenced his football journey with flag football at the age of 5, progressing to tackle football by the third grade.
Prior to this devastating revelation, Bramwell had associated CTE primarily with retired professional football players and never envisioned that it would cast an indelible shadow over her family’s life.
“I thought the worst thing that would ever happen to my kid maybe was a bad tackle. Something broken, something bleeding. That wasn’t the case.”
Understanding CTE CTE, often likened to Alzheimer’s disease, has historically been linked to former professional football players but has also emerged in military veterans, particularly those exposed to explosive devices and roadside bombs.