W3P Luminary, Retired World Champ Willy Wise Donates Brain to Science

An avid fitness trainer, Wise inspired the W3P workout brand before he was diagnosed with probable CTE last June. He has decided to donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation in support of their efforts to identify preventative measures for new athletes and to find a cure for athletes who are still living with the disease.

Willy Wise

Willy Wise is determined to live his life to the fullest. Despite the suspicions of his renowned team of doctors that he has been struck by a crippling degenerative brain disease known as CTE (or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), as always he is determined to beat all of the odds that are stacked against him.

W3P luminary and retired pro boxer Willy Wise is taking CTE to the ring of life. His journey started in 2015, when he began to experience cognitive issues following a 2014 car accident in which he left the road and went airborne at nearly 100 miles an hour. "I wasn't in the 21st century for a week, and even after that I didn't always stay in the 21st century for several months," said Wise. Doctors said that while they saw no evidence of any new injury, they did identify evidence of prior "brain atrophy" a loss of healthy brain tissue, which they said may be attributed to his former career of 30 years as an amateur and professional boxer.

"I have always been a survivor, and I have no doubt that I will survive this as well. Fighters never stop fighting."

Willy Wise, Retired world champion

Wise's wife, Ava Gabrielle-Wise, contacted researchers at the Boston University CTE Center after she recalled a 2013 conversation with a member of Olympic gold medalist Mark Breland's team who mentioned the BU work to her. "She asked me if I was familiar with chronic trauma encephalopathy. At the time, I had no idea what she was talking about. She explained that those who had boxed professionally for ten years or more should understand the potential risk," said Gabrielle-Wise. "I was struck when she said that studies suggest that near 100 percent of professional boxers who fought for more than ten years are likely affected by some degree of CTE."

Since the 2015 movie "Concussion," starring Will Smith, more attention is being paid to the disease, although much of it has taken a political tone. Acknowledgment of the disease for football players is often seen as an attack on the game and, specifically, the NFL. The symptoms of CTE have long been understood to be a potential risk for those who choose boxing as a career, but not until the financial juggernaut and celebrity of the NFL came into the picture did the disease begin to garner much-needed attention.

"Most of the studies focus on the brains of football players, but the medical breakthroughs will clearly benefit boxers as well", said Gabrielle-Wise. "The job is to make young amateur and professional boxers aware of how to take care of themselves." The NFL has had a concussion protocol since 2009 and makes regular adjustments to protect its players. She hopes that young professional boxers will adopt similar protocols.

Gabrielle-Wise didn't believe that they had any reason to be too concerned, as her husband was not experiencing significant symptoms following her 2013 introduction to CTE. By 2015, all of that had changed. They were compelled to get proactive despite Wise's reservations about coming forward to share his symptoms with even the research community. The unspoken rule in boxing is not to talk about brain damage; no one wants to hurt the sport that has helped so many.

And then there's the shame. For generations, boxers have hidden from the embarrassment of being labeled "punch drunk" if they reveal that they are experiencing neurological or behavioral problems, resulting in failure to seek the proper medical attention. Wise is the first to say that he has no regrets and holds no ill will toward the sport that he still loves. His wife, however, is ready to break the code of silence to let people know that if it's caught in time, the symptoms can be manageable. "There is no need for families to suffer in silence and the truth is, without treatment, when it gets bad, you're not really hiding it anyway. If there is no shame in making it to the top of your game, then there's no shame in taking care of the bruises you gained along the way," said Gabrielle-Wise. 

Gabrielle-Wise enrolled her husband in some of the brain studies that were underway in hopes of meeting people who could share more information with them about CTE. During one such study at NYU, a researcher suggested that he visit the Langone Center as a patient to see "some of the top neurologists in the world." Wise saw Dr. Thomas Wisniewski, who after several batteries of tests determined in June 2016 that Wise had probable CTE with mild cognitive impairment due to traumatic brain injury.

Unlike too many retired boxers, Wise is fortunate to have a "dream team" of veteran brain specialists to manage his condition. In addition to Dr. Wisniewski, he receives care from his longtime neurologist, Robert Paschall, M.D. of Riverside Medical Group, Scott W. Sautter, Ph.D of Hampton Roads Neuropsychology, who follows the progress of his cognitive function, and Jamuna Raju, M.D., of Potomac Health Services, who manages his behavioral health. Recently, he started with another renowned physician, Harvard-MIT and Johns Hopkins-educated neurologist Majid Fotuhi of Neurogrow in McLean, Virginia, who is leading a cutting-edge medical science breakthrough in "growing the brain." Fotuhi has determined that the hippocampus, which is central to the emotion and memory functions of the brain, can be increased with customized brain games, cognitive behavioral therapy and neurofeedback, an EEG technique. "It's pretty intense; this is good for people who didn't fight for 30 years and fly out of a Maserati," says Wise. 

If it is possible to prolong the quality of life that he enjoys, Wise is giving himself the best possible shot. Although he is on a number of medications to stabilize his behavioral health and improve his cognition, he remains active. Doctors believe that physical activity is important to maintaining a healthy brain, so he continues his lifelong practice of vigorous physical training. "The hardest part is the difficulty sleeping and forgetfulness. Extreme aggression is not a problem for me. I can manage the mood swings, but forgetting so much is tough." 

As more retired athletes are doing in recent years, he has decided to donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation to assist with the science that helped him to gain control of his condition. "I have always been a survivor, and I have no doubt that I will survive this as well. Fighters never stop fighting," says Wise.

For more information about brain donation, contact concussionfoundation.org/pledge. For more information about Wise's journey with CTE, contact avagabrielle@wisechoiceboxing.com

Source: W3P Workout

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About Wise Choice Boxing Training & Fitness

Wise Choice Boxing Training & Fitness offers world class professional boxing training for those who desire to eventually pursue a career in boxing and less intensive training for those who are seeking to get into top physical form.

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P.O. Box 177
Exmore, Virginia


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