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Junior Seau autopsy finds no signs of drugs or brain damage

Examination of the football star, who committed suicide in May, finds nothing unusual, despite speculation that concussions from sports were a factor.

August 21, 2012|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
  • Junior Seau, playing for the New England Patriots, "had an unremarkable medical history,” the medical examiner said.
Junior Seau, playing for the New England Patriots, "had an unremarkable… (Elaine Thompson, Associated…)

SAN DIEGO — Football star Junior Seau had no alcohol or illicit drugs in his system when he committed suicide, and an initial examination of his brain showed no apparent damage from his years of football, according to the autopsy and toxicology reports released Monday by the San Diego County medical examiner.

Also, his girlfriend, Megan P. Noderer, told police that Seau, 43, had given no indication he planned to kill himself, according to the investigative narrative attached to the autopsy report.

When Noderer returned to the home in Oceanside on May 2 after a morning workout at a gymnasium, she found Seau in bed, dead of a gunshot to the chest from a .357 magnum revolver. No note or "documents that were suicidal in nature" were found. The San Diego County medical examiner declared Seau's death a suicide the next day.

The 6-foot, 3-inch, 275-pound Seau, a star at Oceanside High, USC and the NFL, was taking prescription medicines for orthopedic problems and insomnia, and was under the care of Chargers physician Dr. David Chao, according to the documents. The football star drank only "socially [and] did not smoke, and there was no history of illicit drug use," according to the report.

Seau "had an unremarkable medical history" and had shown no "suicidal ideation or confirmed suicide attempt," Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Nelson wrote.

At the request of the Seau family, brain tissue was sent to the National Institutes of Health for more advanced investigation. Brain damage among football players due to concussions has become a controversial issue in the National Football League, where Seau was a star for the San Diego Chargers and other teams.

Nothing in the autopsy report lists concussions or brain damage as related or contributory to the manner or cause of death. Nor is there anything that suggests the mood changes and irritability often associated with concussions and brain damage.

In its description of the central nervous system, Nelson wrote that features of the brain were symmetrical, showed no signs of injury or lesions, and that the arteries at the base of the brain "have no atherosclerotic changes or aneurysms."

The autopsy and toxicology results were released after San Diego news agencies requested them as public documents. Officials at the county medical examiner's office, citing respect for the Seau family, declined to discuss the findings.

Seau's suicide stunned the public and left many seeking desperately for an explanation. He was widely praised as a local hero, known for his upbeat spirit, charismatic personality and community involvement.

In the news stories that followed, it was learned that Seau's restaurant in Mission Valley had financial problems; the restaurant has since closed.

Also, suspicion turned to an incident in October 2010, when Seau drove his sport-utility vehicle off the road and down a steep cliff to the beach. He was hospitalized with minor injuries but denied any suggestion that it was a suicide attempt, asserting instead that he had fallen asleep in the wheel.

At the autopsy, Dr. Bennet Omalu, an expert in the preservation of brain tissue, was present to ensure that specimens were kept for future study by the National Institutes of Health.

tony.perry@latimes.com

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