Study of former Lobo star brings up sport’s risks

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — We’ve all heard about the connection between football and brain injuries, but what about soccer?

New test results show a former Lobo soccer star’s favorite sport may have damaged his brain.

Patrick Grange was just 29 years old when he died two years ago from Lou Gehrig’s disease.

His mother said she would’ve done things a little differently with her son knowing what she does now about the risks of his favorite sport.

“Patrick was a born athlete,” Michele Grange said of her son.

She said Patrick’s first word was, “ball,” and he started playing ball — soccer to be exact — at just 3 years old.

“Like a kid throws up a baseball and hits it all day with a bat, that’s what Pat would do with a soccer ball, but he would throw it up and head it into the net,” Michele said.

It is something, Michele now says, she wishes she had discouraged — those repetitive bumps to the head at such a young age.

When Patrick got older, he got a few concussions while playing soccer.

He played for the Lobos for two years.

Then at 28 years old, he was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He died 17 months later, but even in death, he’s teaching people about his sport.

A study of his brain revealed he had CTE, a brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head, making him the first known case of a soccer player with CTE.

“Nobody is saying you shouldn’t play soccer and you shouldn’t head the ball. What our concern is that people understand concussions and they understand the right way to coach heading,” said Joshua Groves, technical director of the New Mexico Youth Soccer Association.

Groves said there has been talk about making it mandatory for coaches to take concussion awareness courses and discussion about taking the impact out of heading the ball in practice.

“Should we be using Nerf Balls? Should we be using balls that don’t create such impact? And the method is really the key thing,” Groves said.

Even in her loss, Michele said she is happy her son has helped spark these conversations.

“We just feel like he is making a difference in the world and so something good has come out of our tragedy,” Michele said. “He would be really happy if he knew he was making a difference.”

Doctors at Boston University who studied Grange’s brain suspect the headers were the cause of his concussion syndrome, but they are not sure.

They also suspect the damage to his brain was at the root of his ALS.

Some players wear headgear to protect themselves from the repetitive blows from heading the ball.

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