Earnhardt Jr. says donating brain to science a ‘no-brainer’
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is calling his decision to donate his brain to science a "no-brainer."
NASCAR's most popular driver tweeted his intention earlier this week. He said Friday he plans to pledge his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation. The group works with Boston University on research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative disease that doctors believe is caused by repeated blows to the head.
Earnhardt says he was motivated by reading about three former Oakland Raiders who donated their brains in honor of teammate Ken Stabler. The quarterback's brain showed signs of CTE. Soccer star Brandi Chastain, among others, also has pledged to donate her brain for research.
"I just thought that was amazing that those guys did that in honor of their teammate, and I read where Brandi had done that maybe a month ago, so that just was really inspiring," Earnhardt said at Martinsville Speedway.
Earnhardt has a history of concussions. He had two just weeks apart in the fall of 2012 and missed two races. The first came in a crash during a test session at Kansas, and Earnhardt hid the injury. He spoke up when he knew something was wrong after a crash at Talladegaa a few weeks later.
He sought treatment at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a leader in concussion research. That sparked his interest in learning about his brain, an endeavor he hopes to continue with a visit to Boston University and its brain bank when the series goes to New Hampshire.
"They gave me the confidence going through that process that I could be successful and get through it and I have," Earnhardt said. "I've been healthy and successful and I learned a ton. I may be even a better race car driver today. I'm definitely getting the results on the track that I've always wanted."
The accuracy of concussion evaluations is part of an ongoing debate. IndyCar driver Will Power was held out of the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, Florida when his was misdiagnosed with a concussion rather than an inner ear infection that caused dizziness, headaches and nausea. Earnhardt, however, thinks the system works.
"I think the protocols and the advances that we have made in trying to protect ourselves are great things," he said. "I'm excited about what NASCAR has done. They have really taken this head on. They are talking to the right people. They are talking and involving themselves with the right folks to get the best information to be able to protect the drivers the best way they can."
The 41-year-old driver already intended to be an organ donor, so he said giving up his brain made sense. He added that he hopes science will be advanced enough by then that his brain will no longer be needed. In the interim, though, he hopes his decision prompts others to follow his lead.
"That would be awesome if it inspires other people to do it," he said. "I've talked to people within my own family and they've been inspired to learn more, so that's a good feeling."
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