British Columbia

Concussion researchers to study brain of former B.C. Lions star Rick Klassen

Former B.C. Lions defensive lineman Rick Klassen, who died earlier this month of cancer, has donated his brain to the Canadian Concussion Centre for research purposes.

Rick Klassen died earlier this month of cancer at the age of 57

Former B.C. Lions defensive linebacker Rick Klassen has died of cancer at the age of 57. (Chad Klassen/YouTube)

Former B.C. Lions defensive lineman Rick Klassen, who died earlier this month of cancer, has donated his brain to the Canadian Concussion Centre for research purposes.

In his decade playing for the Canadian Football League, Klassen delivered hit after hit for the B.C. Lions.

He was knocked out at least three times and on nearly every play he saw stars.

Rick Klassen's football career took off during his time at Simon Fraser University. (Chad Klassen/YouTube)

In 2014, he spoke about his concussions in a video produced by his son Chad Klassen. 

"I think it's caused me a lot of problems. It's not easy when you can't control your emotions," the elder Klassen said in the video.

"It's something that I've had to live with." 

Klassen suffered from depression and intense mood swings, according to Chad.

"That inability to control his emotions certainly impacted us as a family," he said.

"It wasn't always a fun environment to be around in, with some of his anger issues that were related to damage that happened to his brain."

In 2013, Klassen was diagnosed with lypmhoma.

His health took a turn for the worse this year and he died earlier this month of cancer.

Prior to his death, Klassen decided to donate his brain to the Canadian Concussion Centre.

Doctors in Toronto will look for signs of neurological disease related to his concussions.

Neuropathalogist Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati has collected about 30 brains from people who suffered concussions during their lifetime.

The majority of the donors are former professional athletes — mainly former CFL and NHL players and one BMX rider, she said.

She examines both the external and internal parts of the brain and documents any damage she finds.

"Sometimes the family just wants to know privately what the findings are and some other times we can go public with it," Hazrati said.

"The main effort here is to be able to detect CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] or the long term effects of concussions in living people."

Researchers want to identify specific markers of CTE and ultimately find a way to block brain degeneration from happening, she said.

Rick Klassen's brain is now at Toronto Western Hospital for analysis.

His family is expecting the results in the new year, said Chad Klassen.

"I can't predict what the results are going to be but I'm just really looking forward to see just how damaged his brain really was."

With files from Jaimie Kehler.

For more CBC stories from the Interior of British Columbia visit CBC Kelowna or CBC Kamloops 

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