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.