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Athlete studied CTE, later died by suicide. Brain study was revealing.

This story explores suicide. If you are at risk, please stop here and contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for support: 1-800-273-8255

Just days before Evan Hansen walked into the woods and died by suicide, he opened his laptop and searched CTE.

The 21-year-old senior football player at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, also searched on his computer for Jason Hairston, a former college star who played in the NFL and had just died by suicide. Hairston was later found to have CTE.

Evan’s parents, Chuck and Mary Hansen, knew their son had been struggling. They didn’t know to what extent. They knew he had been getting help for depression. They didn’t know how deep it had gotten.

When Boston University scientists asked the Hansens if they could study their son’s brain after his death, their answer was yes. Evan’s brain was tested for CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated blows to the head.

A year later, Chuck and Mary got their answer.

Researchers told them the folds of Evan’s brain and top of his spinal column were dotted with the plaque tau — abnormal accumulations of protein that collect inside neurons. He had developed CTE, an incurable disease.  

Chuck Hansen believes his son diagnosed himself.

“I think Evan thought he had CTE or some type of injury from playing football,” he said. “He was kind of determined to try to figure out a solution.”

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