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Junior Seau looks on during a press conference to announce his retirement from the NFL on August 14, 2006 at the Chargers Training Camp in San Diego, California.
Junior Seau's body was returned to his family over the weekend, a spokeswoman with the county Medical Examiner's office said Monday.
The veteran linebacker died of suicide on Wednesday. His family is now awaiting toxicology results from a forensic autopsy.
That autopsy was performed Thursday at the county medical examiner’s office with the help of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist and co-founder of the Brain Injury Research Institute. The institute studies the impact of concussions on health.
Omalu’s participation in the Seau autopsy was confirmed Friday by a spokesperson for the Research Institute. Omalu is also the chief medical officer for San Joaquin County, California.
Seau's body is now in his family's designated mortuary. A public memorial will take place Friday at Qualcomm stadium.
The Seau autopsy won’t be completed for weeks, but right now, doctors know important new details about the condition of Seau's brain because they were able to examine it during the autopsy.
One expert tells NBC San Diego that a pathologist can immediately see if the brain has been damaged by the impact of repeated concussions.
“Typically, the frontal lobes and the temporal lobes take most of the damage, so I would expect those areas will be looked at with some scrutiny,” says Dr. Jerome Stenehjem, of Sharp Memorial Rehabilitation in Kearny Mesa.
Stenehjem says cross-sections of a brain damaged by concussions will show shrunken lobes, compared to those in a healthy brain.
“It’s almost like a raisin shrinking down,” Stenehjem said, in describing the appearance of the damaged brain matter.
Stenehjem and other experts say repeated concussions can cause brain damage, including dementia and depression, which can lead to suicide.
Gary Plummer, a former NFL linebacker who played on the San Diego Chargers during the Seau years, tells NBC San Diego that a good NFL linebacker will suffer several “grade one,” or minor concussions, in every game.
“I can guarantee that in 20 years, he had easily over 1,000 concussions,” Plummer says.