VA Secretary Robert McDonald Vows To Donate Brain

VA Secretary Robert McDonald Vows To Donate Brain For Concussion Research

Robert McDonald, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, vowed Wednesday to donate his brain to concussion research after his death, saying that he wanted to “in a small way, contribute to the vital research happening to better understand brain trauma.”

According to USA Today, McDonald, an Army veteran and the former CEO of Proctor & Gamble, joins a plethora of other veterans and former athletes who are offering their brains to science in the hopes of finding answers in how concussions contribute to long-term neurological problems, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have had a severe blow to the head.

In a statement from the Veteran’s Affairs Office, McDonald said he came to his decision after spending time with veterans suffering from the lasting effects of head traumas.

“We don’t know nearly as much as we should about brain health, but if there’s one thing I’ve seen after visiting almost 300 VA facilities in the past two years, our veterans, particularly those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, are greatly affected by traumatic brain injury. VA needs to continue leading the coalition of scientists working to improve their lives.”

Speaking at the VA-hosted Brain Trust: Pathways to InnoVAtion summit in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, McDonald said he is a perfect candidate for concussion research considering he has suffered numerous blows since childhood playing football and rugby as well as boxing at the U.S. Military Academy in New York.

“I’m willing to pledge my brain to the (Veterans Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation) collaboration because this is very, very serious.”

According to the statement, McDonald’s brain will go to research by scientists led by Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuropathologist who directs the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank in Bedford, Massachusetts. The brain bank has 325 brains and more than 1,000 additional brains pledged.

Chris Nowinski, former WWE wrestler and co-founder and president of the Concussion Legacy Foundation which leads outreach and recruiting‎ for the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, said concussions have long been ignored and viewed largely as an invisible injury. He added that chronic CTE is “something we can see and something we can understand. It reveals that brain trauma can have long-term and devastating consequences.”

“The Concussion Legacy Foundation is working to create a culture of brain donation in America by asking living athletes and Veterans to donate their brains to the Brain Bank to be researched by VA and Boston University researchers. It’s a perfect partnership because the most common victims of CTE are athletes and Veterans and by researching both as a part of one program, the sports community and Veteran community can work together to solve this problem. We all need to work together to solve the concussion crisis.”

In addition to McDonald, swimmer and Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar and retired Oakland Raiders linebacker Phil Villapiano also pledged Wednesday to leave their brains to science during the VA Brain Trust Summit.

Hogshead-Makar said she planned to donate her brain to increase the understanding of concussion in women and help protect youth sports programs.

“Because of this concussion problem kids are dropping out of sports…. We need to figure out how to make sports safe for kids. This is about the youth sports movement, which has long-term benefits on society, on physical health, mental health.”

VA Secretary Robert McDonald joins other brain donors, including three other former Oakland Raiders football players who pledged to donate their brains after former teammate Ken Stabler died last year of colon cancer as well as suffering from CTE.

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]