After their recent drive to the VA hospital, Brenda sat behind Leon during an occupational therapy session. Six months ago, Leon was learning how to walk again. Now he stood in front of a video screen doing exercises that tested his mobility and cognitive skills.
Repeated blows to the head that Leon withstood in 46 professional fights over more than two decades had led to brain trauma, which was diagnosed in 2012 by Charles Bernick, a neurologist at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. Leon’s medical ordeal exacerbated his cognitive impairment.
And after attending a benefit for the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in 2012, Leon, with Brenda’s support, volunteered to participate in the clinic’s study of professional fighters’ brains. Bernick, co-author of the ongoing longitudinal study, examined Leon and noticed that the brain trauma from Leon’s boxing career affected his mood, memory and physical changes.
“Here’s a guy who had a lot of fights and who had a successful career and comes out with a lot of disability from that,” Bernick said. “Yet there’s other people that fight, maybe not quite as much, but go through their career and don’t have that (disability). Then the real question of whether it’s in football or boxing or the military or whatever is what causes that difference?” The first stage of the study — with Leon among 93 boxers and 131 martial arts fighters involved in the initial findings — concluded that repeated blows are linked with smaller volume of certain parts of the brain and slower processing speeds.
Leon, now among about 500 fighters participating in the longitudinal study, is scheduled to have more testing soon and will most assuredly arrive for his appointment with Brenda. No one pays more attention to Leon’s health than she does, and that’s one reason they spent their anniversary last year in an emergency room.