Mikita suffered from Stage 3 CTE at time of his death, study shows
Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita suffered from both Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and Lewy body disease during the final decade of his life.
The diagnosis was revealed at a Concussion Legacy Foundation dinner Friday by Dr. Ann McKee, director of the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, which has been studying the brains of deceased athletes.
Mikita died last year at age 78. He spent 22 seasons playing in the NHL, all with the Blackhawks, before retiring in 1980.
"He never had a diagnosed concussion, but at age 71, his family reported he was losing his train of thought, he had trouble finding the right words, he became quieter and more withdrawn," McKee said. "A year later, he complained of visual hallucinations. By the time of his death, he was bed-bound and required help with all activities of daily living.
"It was when we looked under the microscope that we discovered that Stan Mikita, in the last decade of his life, was fighting the greatest battle of his life. He was fighting not one, but two major neurodegenerative diseases associated with the playing of contact sports."
The Concussion Legacy Foundation has been studying the effects of concussions and CTE in athletes and other at-risk groups. CEO and co-founder Chris Nowinski is an Arlington Heights native who played football at Hersey High School and Harvard University. He suffered a debilitating concussion while working as a professional wrestler that forced him to retire.
"We don't focus enough on CTE," Nowinski said Friday at the Palmer House in Chicago. "There's not enough research going on on CTE. To have a player of Stan's caliber, who means so much to so many, one of the greatest ever to play hockey, to donate his brain and be found to have Stage 3 CTE, I hope will get the attention of people who can help us learn how to prevent and cure this disease more quickly."
McKee said one of the Foundation's main goals is to be able to diagnose and treat CTE during life. At this point, it can be confirmed only by studying the brains of deceased athletes, who like Mikita, pledged to donate their brains for study.
Mikita's daughter Jane spoke at the dinner, while Blackhawks alumni Chris Chelios, Cliff Koroll, Peter Marsh, Gene Ubriaco and Reid Simpson attended the event.
Before his health began to deteriorate, Mikita visited Boston University to participate in research on the long-term effects of concussions and repeated head impacts. Jill Mikita, his wife of 55 years, accepted the CLF's 2019 Courage Award at Friday's event.