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Authors: Michael Lipman and Frankie Lipman
Publisher: Allen and Unwin

What transformed a talented young rugby player, beloved by the crowds, into a bewildered man in his thirties struggling with memory loss, mood swings and permanent brain damage?

The answer is concussion – the title of Michael Lipman’s heartfelt account of the collapse of his career as a rugby union player. It wasn’t a single instance of this most common, usually mild, type of brain injury that brought everything crashing down. It was the repetition of blows to the head during practices and matches, commonly suffered by players in this contact sport. And this condition was exacerbated by what spectators and coaches expect of rugby players: that they’ll rise again after each crushing blow and stagger back into the fray.

Australia born rugby union flanker Michael Lipman played professionally in both the UK and Australia. But by the age of 32 he was forced to retire forever from the sport that was his career and his identity.

It was only after his retirement that he and his wife, Frankie, were able to establish what the incessant onslaught of blows to the head had caused: a condition of permanent brain damage called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), manifesting as early onset dementia.

Concussion shares both Michael’s and Frankie’s honest accounts of what this condition has meant for them. For Frankie, it’s the painful reality of living with someone with CTE and early onset dementia – you have to be the carer, the mediator when tempers fray, the sole head of the family and a support person when the sufferer turns to addiction as an outlet. For Michael, there’s the loss of a sense of purpose, and increasing self-doubt as his memory eludes him. And sadness; the man who had “dreamed of finishing my career on my own terms” cannot even remember his moments of glory.

Both Lipmans call for protocols to recognise when a player may be susceptible to CTE, and offer a guide to managing the condition. However, as both they and foreword writer Peter FitzSimons lament, preventive protocols are still in the remote future.

Concussion is a sobering but important read for anyone involved in contact sport.