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Heading into Super Bowl, Fox Professor Tackles Impact of Concussions


January 30th, 2018

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Concussions have forever altered the sports landscape, calling attention to an injury that is difficult to diagnose and spawning a major motion picture.

Samuel D. Hodge, LAW ’74, professor at the Fox School, has co-authored a book that approaches head trauma and brain injuries, including concussions, from the perspective of the insurance, legal, and medical fields. His book, Head Trauma and Brain Injury for Lawyers, is the latest in a series of medical-legal guides he has penned for the American Bar Association. He’s written others spanning anatomy, the spine, and forensic autopsies.

“We used to assume that boxers were just ‘punch drunk,’ or that a football player ‘got his bell rung,’ but now, obviously, we know better,” says Hodge.

While the book delves into head trauma and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), Hodge says he and co-author Jack E. Hubbard, professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota’s School of Medicine, took a broader approach. The book covers basic anatomy of the brain and its functions, explains the neurological system, and demonstrates how to understand and interpret diagnostic tests for this area of the body.

“What makes the book so interesting and its breadth so wide is that we have chapters on head injuries sustained in military combat, sports, third-party lawsuits, social security disability, and workers’ compensation,” Hodge explains. “Our approach, from both a medical and legal perspective, should make this the seminal book on this subject—not only for medical and legal professionals, but also for those in the insurance industry.”

TBIs contribute to roughly 30 percent of all injury deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In his research, Hodge found that TBIs were the most common injury incurred in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“On the surface, that is surprising,” he says. “But because our military personnel have full body armor, they’re protected from shrapnel in pretty much every other part of their bodies. But road landmines, explosions, and IEDs made concussions and other types of brain trauma the signature injury of the war.”

Concussion litigation has shaken the NFL, as former players file federal lawsuits against the league both for failure to acknowledge the lasting effects of brain-related injuries and to establish guidelines for the recognition and prevention of them. TBIs have been identified as a major cause of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a protein buildup that causes degeneration of the brain. The discovery of CTE, and the NFL’s initial refusal to address it, inspired Concussion, the award-winning film starring Will Smith.

Robert C. Cantu, clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University, who previously has urged the NFL to embrace medical findings pertaining to concussions and CTE, authored a chapter in Hodge’s book.

“Concussions aren’t simply a timely topic that will go away. People still lack a fundamental understanding of their effect on the brain,” Hodge says. “The contributions of Dr. Cantu and other leading experts to this book demonstrate the relevance of TBIs, concussions, and all head injuries today.”

This story originally appeared in On the Verge, the Fox School’s research magazine.

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