SPECIAL REPORT: The Danger of Hockey Head Injuries
When a former UMD Hockey Star Died Unexpectedly, Researchers Found a Clue in His Brain
When UMD Bulldog hockey star Andrew Carroll died suddenly in 2018, his fans, friends and family were shocked. Researchers at Boston University, have now discovered a clue.
It might be sibling rivalry that turned Andrew Carroll into a standout hockey player. Three years younger Andrew fought to keep up with his big brother Chris.
“We were brothers, competing with each other and there were probably times, days and weeks we couldn’t stand each other,” said Chris Caroll. “As we matured, that was a turning point of sorts. I was probably more excited for some of his accomplishments than even he was.”
Andrew’s tenacity on the ice continued at UMD.
“He was probably the one guy I had to say ‘slow down’ when he was here,” said UMD Bulldog Men’s Hockey Coach Scott Sandelin. “But you weren’t going to slow Andrew down. He was very driven.”
Andrew Carroll was the first in the program’s history to be a captain, all four years. People loved Andrew for his passion in the rink, and his personality outside of it.
“When he finished his career (at UMD), I’ve never seen him like that,” Chris Carroll. “Just tears knowing the best four years of his life came to an end and sort of a fear of ‘What I do next?’
For seven years Andrew continued to chase his dreams, playing professional hockey, before taking on the role of coach and P.E. teacher.
On the outside everything was normal, even just a week before he died.
“He was just out in our backyard, skating with our kids and there was nothing different,” said Chris Carroll.
Chris says the family had no indication anything was wrong.
“Saturday morning, I remember my mom calling and I’m just kind of like “What?” She mentioned there was an accident,” said Chris Carroll.
Chicago police say Andrew went to the Chicago airport, and purchased a ticket for an early morning flight home to St. Paul, then walked outside to an overpass and jumped.
“To try to connect the dots of who he was related to what happened, there was such a disconnect,” said Chris. “It’s hard to wrap your head around that still. It’s incredibly difficult, it still is today.
“It was such a shocking way to pass away that knowing his hockey history; we wanted to see if there was anything that could help us understand what happened,” said Chris Kowinski, Ph.D, co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Dr. Kowinksi asked Andrew’s family if they would be willing to donate his brain for research at Boston University. Andrew had a history of fights on the rink, which means he had a greater chance of taking hits to the head.
The University did a biopsy on Andrew’s brain and found that inside everything wasn’t normal.
Andrew’s brain showed more concussions than previously thought, and the early stages of CTE.
“Essentially lesions in the brain, and brain damage slowly spreading,” said Kowinski. “We believe it can associate with changes in behavior, changes with impulsivity related to outcomes like Andrew’s which resulted in suicide.”
Researchers are now focusing on a way to diagnosis CTE in living people, and have discovered people with certain genes have worse outcomes. They say the more times you get hit in the head, the more likely you are to develop CTE.
“You don’t realize how valuable your brain is until you damage it,” said Dr. Kowinski. “I encourage parents to consider what sport they introduce their children to and how sports are played with specific ages. Hockey is a unique situation because the rink, the walls are
hard. We are excited by leadership rising the age of checking to 13, and I think it will continue to go higher. The reality is all contact sports have risks.”
Chris hopes the stigma about mental health will change and wants athletes with a history of concussions feels something isn’t right, or they find themselves behaving strangely, that they’ll speak up.
But as a high school hockey coach, and hockey dad himself, He won’t be keeping kids off the ice.
“The last thing we want to do is live in fear,” said Chris. “Pull everyone out of football or hockey.”
His family is now focused on raising money for CTE research and creating ways to improve safety in sports.
The Concussion Legacy Foundation, Boston University and the Department of Veterans Affairs have now created a ‘brain bank’ in which living athletes can pledge to donate their brain to CTE research after they pass away.
Out of more than 600 brain donations, over 325 have tested positive for CTE.