Former NFL Player, Ben Utecht Talks TBIs

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, led by the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA). Many of those who experience brain injuries or a subset of brain injuries, called Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs), also experience debilitating Migraines, loss of memory and loss of motor skills.

Statistics on TBIs from the BIAA

  • 3 Million Americans live with TBI related injuries.
  • 137 Americans die every day due to a TBI injury.
  • Every 13 seconds someone in the US sustains a TBI.
  • The common causes for TBI are Falls (40.5%), Struck by or Against (15.5%), Vehicle Accidents (10.7%) and 19% are Unknown.

Former NFL Player, Ben Utecht and his journey with a Traumatic Brain Injury.

For Ben Utecht, his TBI falls in the category of 15.5%, due to being Struck by or Against. After suffering 5 concussions in his years playing Tight End for the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals, the last one pushed him out of the game forever. He was only 29 years old.

With a Super Bowl ring under his belt, he had amazing potential in the NFL. The actual career-ending concussion can be seen in the HBO series “Hard Knocks.” Ben suffers from mild headaches occasionally. His biggest struggle from his TBI is memory loss. Just like most Migraineurs, he tries to put on a brave face even though he may not remember a story, while his friends reminisce. His wife is his sounding board and sometimes acts as his memory. She’ll privately explain a memory that has been lost in Ben’s brain.

Ben worries at times about becoming irrelevant and disappearing into an unrecognizable person. He’s scared that one day he won’t remember his family or the memories they made together. He describes his symptoms as being “trapped in a coffin inside his mind”. All TBI patients have a potential to have early-onset dementia. For now he “lives everyday with more value and purpose.”

He says it’s hard to watch football because he wants badly to get back on the field with his teammates. Of course, he’s still a fan of the game. Ben has used this tragedy to reinvent himself by becoming an advocate for Brain Health. He defines Brain Health as finding ways to protect the brain instead of reacting to a traumatic injury.

The brain is a muscle that can be re-trained to a degree. Changing daily diets can prevent multiple neurological diseases as well as working on puzzles or crosswords. He’s also passionate about making positive, preventive changes to football, especially when it comes to children playing the sport. Better helmets are needed and all players should have a neurologist that they meet with to monitor any changes in behavior or symptoms.

Ben admits he’s been through the stages of grief, finally reaching acceptance only after grieving the person he used to be. He has found a purpose in life that not only involves discussions around football but TBIs in particular. He has been the spokesperson for the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and is board member for the American Brain Foundation (ABF). He has previously spoken before the Congressional Committee on Aging about the lasting effects of TBIs and the need for more oversight and research. He’s been on countless TV shows discussing his personal story. His degree in public speaking has helped his platform.

Ben is very savvy when it comes to choosing his treatments and medications. He prefers a natural and holistic approach that “operates within the medical community.” He uses cognitive training to improve his neuropathways. While many who suffer from TBIs can become very depressed, Ben credits his faith and his family’s support to keep fighting and spread the message. He’s fortunate to have such support in his life.

While Ben Utecht does not have Migraines as a result of his concussions and only experiences headaches occasionally, his story parallels many Migraineurs’; The feeling of isolation, the never-ending search for better treatments, trying to educate people about your disease, the need to accept your new life and adapt to your disability. These are life issues we all have in common.

Ben is currently working on an auto-biography that will be available in September. The book is called Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away. He describes it as a memoir and love letter to his family. The idea for the book came from a song Ben wrote for his wife and three girls. Clearly Ben has multiple talents that he harnesses to advocate for Brain Health. He has released four albums and has been nominated for a Dove Award for his Christmas album.

The song that inspired his upcoming book, went viral with over 1 million views, is titled “You Will Always Be My Girls.” The lyrics and accompanying video is beautiful as it is heart-wrenching. Images of a loving family contrast with grim hospital scenes. He laid out his soul in the song, which features his actual family. It also gives hope, while recognizing the affect this illness can be on families.

Thank you to Mr. Ben Utecht for openly sharing his story with me and giving Migraine.com the opportunity to educate our community about TBIs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOX-kSJ7PI4

http://www.ben-utecht.com/

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (3)
  • LT
    3 years ago

    Thanks for this article. My husband has post concussion syndrome after getting a concussion last July, and had multiple minor concussions before that. One symptom/effect he has had since the concussion is a swelling over and around a prominent brow ridge, in the lower forehead. When the swelling is worse, he has headache, dizziness and fatigue. No doctor has been able to identify what this is. This is a bit random, but when watching Ben’s music video, I noticed his forehead/brow ridge has the same appearance as my husband’s. I am wondering if anyone else with brain injury has experienced this?

  • Joao Vieira
    3 years ago

    I had one in 2011 and went long time without treatment because of poor medical judgement and The Hartford staff mismanaged my claim. Still loose ends to catch up with them, but the big picture is that with today’s technology that exists for several years, some neurologists still dont know how to call for functional MRI and other imaging techniques to document and validate this horrible painful condition.

    And when we, the injured, are left on our own without knowing what is going on, precious time needed for an “as good as it can be” recover gets by…In my case, the disconnected legal system also does not enforce treatment in a timely fashion, so it adds up for the whole spaghetti dish.

    Thankfully, there are great professionals that can see the picture out of the box, while the vast majority takes as priority to proccess bureaucratic paperwork to cover their rear, loosing track of the main issue: provide the best treatment possible to the patient.

    Communication to Chris Swift office is also very difficult, resulting in various types of odd feedback, depending on who replies .

    Seeing my life slowly be taken away from within my grip with little resources other than my own, I must stay firm in my resolve to make the best out of it.

    Rewiring the brain is possible, depending on the injury, and so I keep practicing to exercise and push my mental abilities to trying to make up for the lack of treatment with constant sensory malfunction on the right side of my face and sore right Eye. Even though it’s all well documented the Hartford Approach is to patch their behavior instead of being a proactive player and participate actively for the successful recover of their insured clients.

  • Tammy Rome
    3 years ago

    TBI issues are near and dear to my heart. Two auto accidents (1991 & 1993) resulted in TBIs for me. My doctors now think that my cluster headaches are a result of those injuries. Both of my kids have had TBIs — daughter at 17 and son at just 8. Son’s injuries were the worst and took years of recovery. Even now, at 19, he struggles with migraines and anxiety. All of our TBIs were a result of vehicle accidents. Scary stuff. Great to know there are advocates like Ben who are working to build awareness.

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