Doctors treating former England and St Helens base James Graham are concerned about “dark spots” that showed up on a recent brain scan and are believed to be the result of repeated head trauma.
The 37-year-old, who says he has suffered more than 100 concussions and 18,000 collisions in his career, has undergone a series of tests since retiring.
He says he did well on a neuropsychology exam, but a recent MRI scan was less positive.
“The MRI scan of the brain shows some dark spots there which is worrying my doctor and my neurologist,” he told the PA news agency.
“And then there’s another area of the brain where the volume is in the bottom three percentiles of where it should be, which they think is probably related to repetitive head injuries.”
The news comes after a law firm confirmed it will send a letter of complaint to Rugby Football League this week on behalf of a group of ex-professional and semi-professional players, alleging that the board of directors failed to take adequate action to keep players from permanent to protect brain injury.
The group includes former pros Francis Maloney and Bobbie Goulding, who were diagnosed with early-onset dementia.
Graham, who is not part of the group, has previously stated his intention to donate his brain to scientific research when he dies. He said he has not received a definitive diagnosis based on the MRI scan at this point and is being monitored regularly.
“People ask, ‘Are you nervous, are you worried?’ No, I’d rather know. I do not wish to plead ignorance throughout this process. I’m not naive enough to think that I won’t pay a price for the game I played the way I played it,” he added.
“Actually, knowing this gives me greater motivation to keep up with some of the changes I’ve made in my life. I try to stack the odds in my favor for better future health outcomes.”
One way Graham does this is by working with Dr. Julia Jones and her Smart Wellness course.
“I took some advice from her, some lifestyle changes, just simple habits around the benefits of intermittent fasting, cold showers, mindfulness practice, gratitude and meditation,” said Graham, who was diagnosed with depression and anxiety nine months after he dated sports withdrawn.
“There are a variety of them that I think fundamentally lead to better health outcomes. It doesn’t mean a big change in your life, but it really helped me a lot.”
Graham has long been committed to making his sport safer.
“It’s clear we need to act,” Graham said.
“There are a number of recommendations to try and reduce this risk (of developing a neurodegenerative disease). I don’t think you can ever bring that down to the national average.
“However, I will say this about the benefits of sport – the evidence of this is crystal clear, not just for the individual but for the community and society in general. So make no mistake, sport is good but it needs to be safer.”
Graham believes that collisions in junior rugby rugby need to be carefully monitored, former players should be given the tools to keep track of their brain health and current players need to be protected – in some cases from themselves.
“Current players are highly motivated athletes who say they are willing to do almost anything to achieve victory,” he said.
“I don’t regret how I played. I was a product of my environment. It used to be worn as a badge of honor to get a concussion or KO and get up and move on.
“It was (as) brave, brave, tough, all attributes of the warrior’s mentality, to keep going and not wanting to leave the field under any circumstances. I think there needs to be a cultural and environmental shift.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/james-graham-st-helens-england-people-rugby-football-league-b2199050.html James Graham on MRI results ‘likely linked to repeated head trauma’