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It was 3 o’clock last Friday morning when Alicia Duerson’s iPhone flashed with a text message from her ex-husband Dave Duerson in Florida.

She was confused when she woke up and read the words.

“The text said that he loved me and he loved the kids and for me to love the kids,” she recalled. “And that he thought there was something wrong with the left side of his brain and for me to please get his brain to the NFL.”

She sent the text to her son, Tregg, and together they tried to get a hold of Dave Duerson, but there was no answer. Hours later, his body was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the chest.

Despite a well-publicized domestic dispute, divorce and personal bankruptcy, his family believes it was his failing health that led the former Pro Bowl Safety for the Chicago Bears to take his own life.

“He was tortured inside,” she said.

Duerson says she and her ex-husband remained very good friends despite the split.

“Financially, Dave was dealing with it,” she insists. “I don’t think it was to the point he would take his life. He’d already been through the tough part of it. It couldn’t have been just that.”

Suddenly it became clearer, as Alicia Duerson recalled a situation recently when they were having coffee together in suburban Chicago. Duerson told his ex-wife about vision and memory problems.

“He talked to me a lot about blurred vision, and he had to go somewhere in the city and he couldn’t remember how to get there. It was frustrating for him that he couldn’t remember how to get there,” she recalled.

Dave Duerson served on the NFL’s Board awarding benefits to former players. He was intimately aware of the symptoms of dementia caused by multiple hits to the head. His own father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease before passing away last year. Yet he never reached out to get his own help. Not to his friends, his family or his closest teammates.

“No, no,” Alicia said, shaking her head at the pride her ex-husband exhibited. “Dave was a very private and closed person.”

It was part of the game; a price players in these pre-concussive times of the NFL paid to play a game they loved. They got dinged up. They kept playing. They didn’t come out of games unless they had a broken bone. They sucked it up.

Alicia Duerson said there were “multiple times” she had to drive her husband home after games because he was dizzy, nauseous, or just not feeling quite right.

“It happened in New York (playing for the Giants) and Chicago (Bears) as well,” she said.

Did he pay the ultimate price? Researchers at Boston University’s School of Medicine will find out. Duerson’s brain was preserved and sent to the school’s study for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, CTE.

For his sake, his family hopes it proves true.

“I just pray and hope that its not all lost I just hope what he felt in his heart was true,” she said.

“I’m not angry at all. I’m really proud of him that in his darkest of moments in life he was thinking of others.”