The Australian rugby league icon Wally Lewis, affectionately known as ‘the King’, confesses to having been diagnosed with the potential likelihood of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The revelation came after he viewed brain scans so shocking that it even reduced his doctor to tears.
Lewis had sought medical advice following a mounting concern over memory loss issues he had been contending with for an extended period. The discovery was made when a recent brain scan was compared against previous ones, leaving both himself and his doctor entirely lost for words.
The astonishment stemmed from a stark contrast between the former and recent scans. Lewis recalled, “I was waiting to see a tiny mark on the X-rays (scans), reminiscent of my previous concussion spells when the doctor would just point out a minor different spot”.
He continued, “However, the difference between the first and second scans was drastic, which left me dumbfounded”. The changes were so substantial that his doctor was visibly moved and something she’d never seen before.
Despite the emotional reaction, the physician maintained her positivity stating, “This is not about dwelling on the negatives, let’s focus on the positives and begin managing this in the most effective way possible,” shared Lewis.
The primary symptoms experienced by Lewis till now have been severe memory loss accompanied by frequent headaches, prompting his awaiting trip to Sydney for further discussion regarding healthcare plan with his doctor. Despite his alarming diagnosis, Lewis maintains there are no regrets circling his NRL career, though he concedes possible alterations to his play technique if he knew beforehand.
“I didn’t actively engage in the sport seeking concussions or planning evasive actions. Rugby was born out of my sheer passion for the sport and I am frank about not seeking any sympathy at this stage.” He also added that the sport shouldn’t be vilified for his diagnosis and any errors could be attributed to incorrect head positioning during tackles.
CTE is highlighted by Dementia Australia as a form of dementia caused by repeated concussions or head injuries. Over time, an individual’s regular functioning or working lifestyle may be adversely impacted due to the continuous degeneration of brain function.
Maree McCabe, CEO of Dementia Australia, acknowledges Lewis’s transparency about his diagnosis. “When well-known individuals like Wally open up about their personal struggles, it can reassure others experiencing similar issues and encourage them they are not alone.”
She further advised that CTE is entirely preventable and said, “Its risk can be significantly reduced by averting head injuries and implementing effective management of concussions based on proven best practice guidelines”.