"When he stopped playing, he became the bad seed," Cassandra Keck said. "If they drank together, there ended up being holes in the wall. The next few years, people stopped coming around. People didn't want to be around him anymore."
Unable to read without debilitating headaches, Keck left school six credits shy of graduation. Cassandra Keck said the suicide of former San Diego Charger Junior Seau, who shot himself in the chest to preserve his brain for study, "really opened my eyes, because that's what Michael was going through." Seau was found to suffer from CTE, which can be diagnosed only after death.
The Kecks had just moved to Colorado, to see if the change would be beneficial to Michael's health, when he was hospitalized for a bacterial infection.
"I walked in and I saw him and I saw all the machines. All of a sudden I told this doctor in front of me, 'If he's not going to get through this, I want to donate his brain to Boston University because that's what he wanted to do,'" Cassandra Keck said. "That was something he would tell me: He never thought suicidal thoughts ever, but sometimes he would say 'Sometimes I wish I would just die so I could donate my brain to Boston University to prove that there was something wrong with me.'"
Cantu said the worst cases of CTE are found in those who play for years, taking hundreds or thousands of hits to the head. It is progressive, so ex-players continue to deteriorate after they retire.
But Keck didn't play all that long, and he was too young for the disease to be blamed on aging.
Cassandra Keck said she was shocked to hear the diagnosis, but relieved all the same.
"You would hope that there was something wrong, for him to be suffering like that. The whole time I was with him, he was suffering from this," she said. "All the time we'd talk about it. All the time we were doing research, so he could have a quality of life; so that Justin wouldn't grow up with his dad freaking out all the time.
"It makes me happy for him because it's what he wanted to prove to everybody," she said. "He was really suffering, and nobody believed him."