A young B.C. man who died earlier this year has become the first confirmed case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a professional bull rider, doctors have confirmed.
Ty Pozzobon was a rising star in the rodeo world when he took his own life in January at the age of 25. The Merritt, B.C., man was named the 2016 Professional Bull Riders Canadian champion and had qualified three times for the Canadian Finals Rodeo.
From the beginning, his family has suspected that his death was related to the repeated concussions he suffered during his career, and they donated his brain to the University of Washington in Seattle in the hope of learning more.
Neuropathological researchers at the university confirmed Tuesday that they had diagnosed Pozzobon with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease linked to repetitive brain injury.
In a written statement, Pozzobon's family said it hopes the results will help others.
"Ty's passing has brought so much sorrow and pain to all, we hope everyone, specifically athletes, understand that we need to educate each other with regards to head injuries, both short and long-term impacts," the family said.
The family said their goal isn't to get athletes to stop doing what they love, but to encourage them to "do it in a smarter way, and listen to both what the medical professionals tell you and what your body and mind are telling you."
CTE is a disease that has most often been identified in football players who have suffered repetitive brain injuries, but it can only be confirmed in an autopsy. Symptoms of the disorder can include memory loss, aggression, impaired judgment, depression and dementia.
Pozzobon's family has said he suffered "numerous" concussions in his bull-riding career, and the post-mortem examination of his brain revealed chronic traumatic injury.
Bull riders group concerned
The young rider toured with Professional Bull Riders (PBR), and in a statement Tuesday the organization said that "athlete health and welfare always has been and remains of utmost importance."
"PBR has medical personnel present at every event we produce, is working with experienced organizations to develop advanced protective equipment and is engaging with riders regularly in new research and development initiatives," the statement read.
The statement did not directly address how PBR is handling the issue of concussions.