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His Brain Was Betraying Him. An Autopsy Showed Why

The 'NYT' looks at the life and death of Jason Hairston
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 1, 2019 11:12 AM CST
An illustration of the brain.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – Kirstyn Hairston thought her husband might take his own life. But she didn't expect it would come so soon, or that he would do it in their home as the kids were downstairs. "But would you want to live if you knew you were losing your mind?" she asks when speaking to New York Times reporter John Branch. She opened up for a lengthy piece about Jason Hairston, who at age 47 "gave every indication that he was living ... the American dream." He died in September. A top college football player, he did short stints with the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos before founding KUIU, a high-end hunting gear and apparel company that did $50 million in sales in 2016. He had "3% body fat and model-handsome looks," writes Branch. He also had a history of concussions and was certain he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He did.

A diagnosis can still only be made posthumously, and though Hairston shot himself in the head, there was enough brain tissue intact for Dr. Bennet Omalu to verify he had CTE. "This was almost a replica of Mike Webster’s brain," he said, referring to the first former NFL player who was diagnosed with the disease. Branch details how the Hairstons hid the reality of the situation well (he went sheep hunting in the Yukon with Donald Trump Jr. the month before his death)—though Hairston is described as repeatedly bringing up his suspicion to friends and colleagues, who brushed him off as paranoid. But Kirstyn describes a painful final 18 months, studded with savage headaches, anger, depression, and bouts of infidelity and alcohol abuse. Branch's full story is worth a read. (Read more CTE stories.)

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