Kelly Catlin's family has donated her brain to the Veterans Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank

By Char Adams
March 13, 2019 12:53 PM
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty

The family of Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin has donated her brain for research after the athlete died by suicide in a death the family has attributed to over-training and a concussion.

The Catlin family has donated the 23-year-old’s brain to Veterans Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank in an effort to determine how a concussion resulted in the mental and behavioral changes that they believe ultimately led to the athlete’s death, according to The Washington Post.

“Our family decided to have a neuropathologic examination performed on Kelly’s brain to investigate any possible damage caused by her recent head injury and seek explanations for recent neurologic symptoms,” Mark Catlin, Kelly’s father, said of the decision, according to the Post.

The Bank confirmed the donation to PEOPLE, noting that it received the brain on Tuesday.

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Kelly, who helped the U.S. women’s pursuit team win the silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, died on Friday in her Stanford University dorm room in California. Kelly’s sister, Christine Catlin, previously told PEOPLE that Kelly’s roommate found her and contacted authorities.

RELATED STORY: Family of Olympic Cyclist, 23, Who Died by Suicide Speaks Out: She Was ‘Tortured Mentally’

A spokeswoman with the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner’s office said Kelly died from asphyxiation.

A competitive cyclist, Kelly rose to prominence as a member of the U.S. national team and raced for the Rally UHC Pro Cycling Team. She was pursuing a graduate degree in computational mathematics at Stanford at the time of her death.

“When I heard the news I was biking and my mom called me,” Christine recalled of the day her sister died. “We had been worried because [Kelly] hadn’t answered the phone in, like, a week. I was having a really sad feeling about that. When my mom called me I was hyperventilating and crying. I’ve been numb ever since.”

According to the family, Kelly’s mental health struggles began in December 2018 after she suffered a concussion during a cycling race. She began having vision problems, severe headaches and was unable to complete workouts with her team, Mark told PEOPLE.

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“My wife and I talked to her weekly on the phone and she started to express apathy about cycling, which she’d never done before,” Mark said. “She had a lack of enthusiasm for the Olympic team, for training, for everything in life. We were concerned. She ran herself down. The concussion had a profound impact on her. She had these mental issues and she started to feel trapped.”

RELATED STORY: 23-Year-Old Olympic Cyclist Kelly Catlin Dies in Apparent Suicide

Kelly attempted to die by suicide in January, but survived and underwent physical and mental health treatment for about two weeks before returning to school.

Mark and Christine said they called Kelly constantly and her mental health seemed to have been improving. Now, the family is struggling to come to terms with Kelly’s death as they make funeral arrangements. Kelly — who is one of a set of triplets — leaves behind her sister and brother, Colin, and her parents, Mark, 66, and Carolyn Emory, 67.

“She had such a bright future. She was so multi-talented,” Mark said.

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