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Brain trauma cited

Ex-Patriot’s family wants evaluation

By Monique Walker and Chelsea Conaboy
Globe Staff / August 17, 2011

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The family of Corwin Brown, a former Patriots safety and assistant coach, said in a statement that they believe he is suffering from symptoms associated with brain trauma and have reached out to Boston neurologist Robert Cantu for an evaluation.

On Friday, Brown was involved in a standoff at his Indiana home, where police were called to respond to a domestic violence incident. Brown’s wife and three children were freed from the home, but he remained inside for nearly seven hours before being taken to a hospital with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the torso.

Yesterday, Brown, 41, was charged with three felonies in relation to the incident for allegedly holding his wife hostage with a handgun and bruising her during the standoff. The gunshot wound missed all vital organs, according to Brown’s family, and now they fear Brown is suffering from the same symptoms that affected former NFL safety Dave Duerson, who committed suicide in February.

“We believe Corwin is suffering from symptoms similar to those experienced by the late Dave Duerson and were caused by the many notable collisions during Corwin’s career in the NFL,’’ said the statement. “For those reasons, Corwin chose to not disclose his symptoms, as he did not want to bring shame to any coach, team, organization, or the NFL.

“We can no longer remain silent and we believe it is important that his former teams, teammates, coaches, and the NFL to understand the severity of this situation.

“As a result, we have reached out to neurologist Dr. Robert Cantu in Boston to request a consultation with Corwin and our family. We are hopeful that we can connect soon and he will agree to help Corwin and our family. Certainly, we realize there will be a significant financial cost to bear, and we offer our plea for help.’’

Cantu is co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine. Last year, the NFL gave a $1 million unrestricted gift to the center to support its research into the long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma in athletes.

When reached yesterday, Cantu said he had not spoken with the Brown family and would not comment specifically about his case, but provided some insight into chronic traumatic encephalopathy and how it can be treated.

The only way to diagnose the degenerative disease is through an autopsy of the brain, he said, but there are behavioral signs that can be signals of the disease, which is caused by repeated blows to the head.

The center, in partnership with the Bedford VA Medical Center, has analyzed Duerson’s brain and 14 others from retired NFL players. In all but one, the telltale sign of chronic traumatic encephalopathy was found - a buildup of an abnormal protein called tau in the areas of the brain that control mood, impulse, and behavior.

Cantu said he is concerned about the disease leading to explosive events, such as Duerson’s suicide. He urged people who suspect that they have it to seek treatment.

“Though we can’t diagnose CTE with certainty, though we don’t have medicines currently that will cure it, we can dramatically treat the symptoms,’’ he said.

The depression and mood disorders caused by the disease are treatable with drugs and therapy, though the effect of treatment may decline as the disease progresses.

The Brown family said they noticed changes in him after his career ended. Brown played at Michigan before an 11-year NFL career that began with New England in 1993. He played four seasons with the Patriots, then continued his career with the New York Jets and Detroit Lions.

Brown played his final NFL season in 2000, then entered the coaching ranks. Eventually, he landed at Notre Dame for three seasons (2007-09), where he held several positions, including defensive coordinator. Last season, he joined the Patriots as a defensive backs coach but was not brought back this season.

“The Corwin we know and love is gifted intellectually and athletically and loves his family,’’ the family statement said. “We remember him going to the University of Michigan motivated to be a ‘Michigan Man,’ energetic and full of laughter, then returning from the NFL not trusting, suspicious, distant, gloomy, exhausted, and depressed.’’

Five years ago, Cantu said, he saw virtually no patients who came to him with concerns about chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Now, they are common, he said. And many, he said, are “people you know from Foxborough.’’

There is still support for Brown in Foxborough. On Sunday, Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson said he had heard bits and pieces about the incident involving Brown and was concerned.

“I don’t really know exactly what’s going on,’’ Johnson said. “That kind of bothers you in a sense, but again, I have something to do here with the New England Patriots.

“But my blessing goes out to him and his family.’’

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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