Minnesota head football coach Jerry Kill

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Kill remains at Mayo Clinic for extensive seizure tests

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER
  • Star Tribune
  • September 27, 2011 - 11:27 AM

Jerry Kill was examined by Mayo Clinic specialists Friday morning and was encouraged to remain at the hospital for treatment of his epileptic condition, sources at the university said Monday. But it wasn't until the Gophers football coach suffered another seizure at home Sunday morning that Kill agreed to return to Rochester for an extended evaluation.

Kill remained at the clinic Monday, with no indication of when he might return to work, or even be released from the hospital. "He'll decide when he feels ready," athletic director Joel Maturi said, "but it's something that will be determined in consultation with his doctors."

And if they recommend he remain away from football for several days, even weeks? That wouldn't be a problem, Maturi said, nor would it dent his support of the first-year coach.

"I know how impatient he is, and how hard he is working to get the program turned around. That's one reason he has captured the hearts of Minnesotans -- that competitive fire," Maturi said. "At the same time, now is the time to get this taken care of, to get his seizures under control. We want Jerry Kill to be our coach for a long time."

Kill vowed last week to keep working even as he continued to experience multiple less- severe seizures. But he decided to seek the opinion of specialists at Mayo, a level-four (or highest degree of training) epileptic center, and traveled Thursday night to Rochester. After an exam Friday morning, doctors recommended he check himself in, but Kill returned to Minneapolis in order to coach Saturday's 37-24 loss to North Dakota State.

Now that he is hospitalized once again, "I'm pretty certain he's not going to be defiant about his care. Jerry's really pretty good at listening to his doctors," Maturi said. "If they say, 'You've got to get X hours of sleep,' or something to limit his workload, I think he will heed them."

The Gophers, 1-3 in Kill's first season, play at Michigan on Saturday, and Maturi said it's too early to know whether the coach will make the trip. But a clinical evaluation of a patient with a recurring condition such as Kill's typically requires five to seven days of hospitalization, according to Dr. Ilo Leppik, an epileptologist at MINCEP Epilepsy Care, another level-four treatment center.

Leppik, former president of the National Epilepsy Foundation, said the pattern Kill's seizures have taken -- convulsions at a Gophers game Sept. 10, then a series of smaller seizures -- "is really not typical. That is more concerning. Seizures can be like wildfires -- seizures often will beget more seizures -- but usually they will subside once the patient is hospitalized."

Maturi, for one, thought they had.

"I saw him every day last week," he said, "and in my own non-medical judgement, [of] everything from the color in his face to the energy he had, quite frankly, I thought he was doing really well."

Roughly 80 percent of people who experience seizures will go several years at a time between episodes, with little effect on their daily lives, Leppik said. But 10 to 30 percent at any given time fall into a more serious category, called "intractable epilepsy," the specialist said, and such patients, like the Gophers coach, require more significant treatment.

That can include more sophisticated and powerful medication, Leppik said, or even surgery if doctors are able to diagnose a specific physical cause. "If the source can be found and treated, this condition is not permanent," Leppik said. "There is no barrier to performing intellectually, making rational decisions, to functioning normally."

The workaholic coach's nonstop schedule worried Maturi. "Many of us, including myself, told him to say no on more than one occasion to some request that he had or some speaking engagement. I haven't demanded that -- maybe I could have," Maturi said. "Whether [his schedule] contributed to the seizures, I don't know."

He's concerned for the football program and its fans -- "In any public setting, witnessing seizures is alarming, uncomfortable, frightening in many ways, even though they are not life-threatening," Maturi said -- but he's concerned even more for the 50-year-old coach.

"As difficult as it would be to witness again, the bigger concern is making sure Jerry Kill is healthy," Maturi said. "Fighting back, that defines Jerry Kill. It's who he is. He's battled his whole life, and this is another challenge he will conquer."

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