Welch to donate brain for concussion study


Noah Welch was a smart kid with a head for hockey when he attended prestigious Harvard University.


Noah Welch was a smart kid with a head for hockey when he attended prestigious Harvard University.

Now, the Florida Panthers defenceman has decided to donate his brain to Boston University's School of Medicine after his death so researchers can study the long-term effects of concussions.

Welch, 26, is among 12 living athletes -- including two hockey players (retired Hall of Fame NHL centre Pat LaFontaine is the other) -- who have agreed to help out The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine.

Traumatic encephalopathy usually affects boxers. It's also referred to as dementia pugilistica.

Six NFLers helping out Welch, six NFL players -- including former New England Patriots star linebacker Ted Johnson -- along with Cindy Parlow, a former member of the U.S. women's national soccer team, are among the living dozen elite athletes who have jumped on board to help.

Parlow, who competed in three Olympics and a couple of World Cups, is retired, but continues to have severe headaches caused by concussions.

As for Welch, he doesn't think he's doing anything that special, but he was intrigued by the study. He grew up in Brighton, Maine, outside of Boston, so there's an attraction there as well.

Boston University's School of Medicine has already studied six deceased NFLers, aged from their mid-30s to 50, including Pittsburgh Steelers centre Mike Webster. Researchers found that five of the players had, as the New York Times said in a story published on Tuesday, "chronic traumatic encephalopathy." Welch, who was partnered with Bryan McCabe on the Panthers blue-line Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place, had no hesitation about donating his brain.

"I'm already an organ donor. If it can help with the research of the brain, I'm all for it. They asked, and I said, 'sure,' " said Welch, who has only had one concussion that he knows of. It occurred when he was playing for Wilkes-Barres Scranton, the Pittsburgh Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate, before he was traded to Florida for Gary Roberts.

"I didn't lose consciousness after the concussion, but I was out for a fair amount of time," Welch recalled. "But even if I'd never had one, I still think I'd like to be part of this study.

"When you play a contact sport, you get blows to the head and they want to see how the brain responds. I'm all for it," said Welch, who majored in government at Harvard.

Welch knows there are many athletes, a good number of them football players, who are in rough shape after finishing their NFL careers. Many suffer from depression and loss of memory.

There's also a growing number of young NHL players who've had their careers cut short by concussions. Brett Lindros stands out, along with older players like Lindros' brother, Eric, and LaFontaine.

"I talked to a guy named Chris Nowinski (a former Harvard football player and wrestler) who's a part of the Sports Legacy Institute (a non-profit group that's helping Boston University) and he enlightened me on the lack of information we have with post-concussion syndrome," said Welch.

"Obviously, it's a part of our sport, although more so in football where players have suffered and committed suicide.

It's pretty sad and I think a lot can be prevented before it gets to that point," he said.

The Times said the NFL will announce today that former Houston Oilers linebacker John Grimsley, who died seven months ago after shooting himself in the chest, had severe brain damage.



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