Players, doctors raise concerns over the lasting effects of concussions, Parkinson's disease: poll

DAVID Howell was known for being fearless on the rugby league field – but there’s been a price to pay in his later years.

Mr Howell, 63, of Lambton North, played competitive  rugby league from his teens to age 34 and took a lot of hits to the head.

Nicknamed ‘‘Chook’’, Mr Howell estimates he suffered 12 to 15 concussions throughout his footballing career.

In his prime, he captain-coached West Rosellas to three premierships in the early 1980s.

He was later named in the club’s team of the century. Now he suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

‘‘It started getting me in my late 50s – that’s something I put down to football,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s something that people cop because of head knocks and that sort of thing.’’

He suffers headaches and has difficulty remembering things.

‘‘I’ve got memory loss really bad now,’’ he said.

‘‘My mates will say to me ‘remember this’ and I can’t.’’

Research is being done into concussion in Newcastle – involving  Knights and local footballers – to improve understanding, treatment and management of the injury. 

Dr Andrew Gardner, a Newcastle-based clinical neuropsychologist, aims to collect data on concussion incidents in Newcastle in every sport, including adults, teens and children.

Mr Howell said copping head  knocks was part of the sport’s competitive nature.

‘‘We were out to win all the time,’’ he said. ‘‘We were trying to establish records and we did by winning three competitions on the trot.’’ 

He supported efforts in the modern game to better manage concussion.

‘‘I take my hat off to that.’’ 

He said the camaraderie among his teammates lived on today.

‘‘They’re great blokes and Wests are a great club,’’ he said.

Garry Leo played rugby league for 26 years and during that time he was knocked out three times.

‘‘Once when I was 19, another time when I was 23 and then again when I was 28,’’ the Cameron Park resident said.

Now aged 69, Mr Leo said he hadn’t noticed any ill effect from  those knocks – but he does have friends who might have been affected.

They are aged 66 and 74 and both have dementia – a condition doctors are concerned could be caused by repeated concussions.

‘‘Dementia happens to people when they get old but I feel it might have accelerated it,’’ Mr Leo said.

‘‘These blokes were mentally alert when they were younger and reasonably fit.’’

Mr Leo, the Hunter president of Men in League, said he was pleased research was being done into the effect of repeated concussions to the brain. He said that when he played league it was  not  something that people gave much thought to – as long as the player woke up by the end of the game.

Mr Leo was a member of the Balmain Junior Rugby Club, the Balmain Tigers and then Northern Suburbs Newcastle.

‘‘There were two occasions when I got knocked out and was concussed and then I kept playing and couldn’t remember,’’ he said.

‘‘When they saw you’d been knocked out they’d just give you some smelling salts.’’

Mr Leo said   there should be time limits imposed before a  concussed player was allowed to  play again.

 He suggested two weeks for an adult and five or six weeks for a junior.

‘‘I’m an advocate that even if it’s a mild concussion you shouldn’t play for two weeks,’’ he said.

‘‘Kids shouldn’t play for five or six weeks. I think physically they might be fine but mentally the brain needs a bit more time.’’

Mr Leo said  concussions were  more of an issue in today’s game.

‘‘In my day most of the tackling was done below the hip.  Now most of it is done from chest to shoulders and it only needs one arm to slip up for something to happen.

‘‘These blokes are a hell of a lot fitter and stronger and collisions are exceedingly brutal.

‘‘Sooner or later something is going to give,’’ he said. 

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