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The family of former Georgia Tech and NFL star Demaryius Thomas opened up Tuesday about what contributed to his sudden death at the age of 33.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Kaylee Hartung, Thomas’ parents revealed he suffered from Stage 2 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, at the time of his death.
“He didn’t want people to know, you know, what was going on,” said Katina Stuckey Smith, Thomas’ mother.
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Thomas died at his Roswell home on Dec. 9, 2021 after he was found unresponsive in the shower. The Roswell police report obtained by Channel 2 Action News listed cardiac arrest as Thomas’ cause of death.
Thomas’ parents donated his brain to research at Boston University, which confirmed the CTE diagnosis.
Boston University professor of neurology and pathology Dr. Ann McKee told ABC News that she has diagnosed CTE in 600 to 700 athletes after their death. The players ranged from the amateur to professional level in just about any sport associated with hits to the head.
McKee explained to ABC News what the university found when the researchers studied Thomas’s brain.
“We found is what we’ve seen in so many other players under the age of 34. So on the basis of multiple lesions in the frontal lobes and temporal lobe are beginning degeneration of deeper areas of the brain. He was diagnosed with CTE. Stage two CTE itself does not cause death. You don’t die from CTE. What CTE does is it changes your behavior and your personality,” said McKee.
Thomas’ parents said they saw him struggling in the year up to his death and noticed the changes in his behavior.
“He was paranoid all the time. But memory loss, I saw that as well. Every single day, he complained about having a headache,” said Bobby Thomas, Thomas’ father.
“His mood changed. He would also isolate himself sometimes,” Smith said. “He said, ‘I don’t feel like myself.’”
Thomas’ parents also confirmed their son suffered from violent seizures after he was injured in a car wreck.
“He would shake so much where he couldn’t breathe. It got to the point where he was having three or four back-to-back,” Bobby Thomas said.
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Thomas grew up in Laurens County, where he played high school football at West Laurens High School. He later signed to play college football at Georgia Tech.
Thomas is remembered as one of the best players in Georgia Tech program history. His impressive career with the Yellow Jackets landed him a decade-long career in the NFL, including eight years with the Denver Broncos and a Super Bowl ring.
Thomas announced his retirement in the summer of 2021. He died less than six months later after another seizure.
His parents told ABC News they weren’t sure at first about donating his brain to be studied. They are now sharing what they have learned to honor Thomas’ final wishes.
“At first, I didn’t want to do it. But then I remembered a conversation that DT and I had, where he said, ‘Mom, if anything ever happens to me, I want to be able to help other players.’”