Concussion: Behind The Movie With A Pathologist

Dr. Bennet Omalu, Photo: Robert Durell

Dr. Bennet Omalu, Photo: Robert Durell

Pathologists, like Dr. Bennet Omalu, the pioneering physician Will Smith portrays in the film Concussion, often look through a microscope to diagnose disease on a cellular level. Although what we look at may be small, our vision of our patients is large and complete. Our specialized medical expertise provides the knowledge needed to diagnose and treat all manner of acute and chronic disease. Every disease or injury leaves clues. As Dr.  Omalu did as the first to report chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in professional football players, pathologists use these clues to give patients the right diagnosis and their physicians all of the information they need to provide the right treatment.

How Does A Pathologist Help You? 

Since Concussion is the story of a forensic medical examiner, you may be wondering how a pathologist could possibly impact you, a living person.

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The truth is that only a small percentage of pathologists work in high profile forensic medicine. The majority of pathologists serve in a diverse range of community, academic and government settings. We are integral, collaborative members of your clinical care team. You may never see your pathologist, but your pathologist always sees you. Any and every surgical specimen, biopsy, or bodily fluid that is obtained by your physician is sent to the laboratory for analysis by a pathologist. For example, in my practice in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, on any given day we provide reports and test results that inform and impact almost every aspect of health, from diagnosing cancer to managing chronic conditions like diabetes.

Here are three key takeaways pathologists want you to know about concussions, CTE and how we impact your daily health:

1. CTE isn’t a result of one concussion, but repeated blows to the head. The movie title is a bit of a misnomer because CTE is a result of repeated brain trauma or injuries, not a single concussion. You don’t have to stop your son or daughter from participating in sports. As with the majority of injuries, most people who suffer an isolated concussion will heal completely.

2. Helmets do not prevent against concussions or CTE. Helmets can prevent facial lacerations, fractures and internal bleeding, but they do not prevent the brain from moving around inside the skull which causes brain trauma.

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3. Pathologists are a vital part of YOUR health care team. While Dr. Omalu’s story focuses on his discovery of a disease through autopsy, the vast majority of pathologists work in community hospitals, academic medical centers and government facilities, delivering laboratory test results and a wide range of services that are fundamental to an accurate diagnosis and an effective treatment plan of everything from cancer to diabetes.

Talk to your health care team about protect yourself and your children in sports and in life. Think of the pathologist as medical fact-finders who help define your path to health. Learn more about the vital diagnostic role of the pathologist at

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Dr. Crystal MooreCrystal A. Moore, MD, Ph.D proudly serves as a staff pathologist at the Hampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She also holds affiliations and laboratory directorships with several private labs in the cities of Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Newport News, Virginia. Visit her website or connect on Twitter @DrCrystalAMoore.