Doctor to reveal more today about Coach Kill's condition

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 12, 2011 - 10:09 AM

The Gophers football coach is recovering after a routine, but very public, seizure.

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Gophers football coach Jerry Kill was carted off by medics at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. Kill is used to dealing with seizures, though rarely in a public setting.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Gophers football coach Jerry Kill "feels like he got hit in the head" a day after suffering a seizure on the sideline during Minnesota's 28-21 loss to New Mexico State on Saturday, his brother said, but the side effect that will linger longest has little to do with his health.

The team's doctor, Pat Smith, is expected to brief the news media Monday afternoon on the coach's medical progress.

"He's real embarrassed," Frank Kill said of his older brother, who remained hospitalized Sunday in stable condition. "He doesn't want that to happen in front of fans, in front of kids. He doesn't want that to be what people think about him."

What he wants is to return to work as quickly as possible, though Smith said in a statement released by the university Sunday that it's too early to determine when that will happen. But defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who has worked for Kill for 17 years, noted Saturday that "he has never missed a game -- that's the easiest way to put it."

"Everything is fine. He's sore and tired, but that always goes away after a couple of days," said Frank Kill, who had spoken with family members, though not the coach himself, since the seizure.

Heat, humidity were factors

The university announced that Kill is improving and all tests are normal, which has been the case after each of his previous seizures. Kill collapsed with 20 seconds remaining in Saturday's game and began violently convulsing on the field, the fourth time in the past decade that it has happened publicly, three at football games and once while taping a television interview.

Kill has suffered seizures at home over the years as well, his brother said, though only rarely. He takes medication daily to reduce the chances of a recurrence, and it only happens during extreme circumstances. "I remember once he had a small one with me. He was coming off spring ball, and he was just exhausted," Frank Kill said. "I'm telling you, he works like a mule. He coaches as hard as if he was playing the game, and sometimes he's not as careful as he means to be."

The heat and humidity on the TCF Bank Stadium field probably triggered the seizure, Smith said, and Kill's brother said he could tell from watching on TV that the coach was sweating profusely. "He gets wrapped up in the game, and he forgets to keep taking water," Frank Kill said. "I talked to him Friday, and I could tell he was really tired. He's been working 'round the clock, working his tail off. I said, 'Big brother, you've got to rest. You can't work without sleep,' but he's so determined to get that team turned around. Maybe this will be a wake-up."

He also echoed Claeys' comment that "it looks a lot worse than it is." Kill's family has learned to live with the coach's condition, because he always has recovered quickly. "The first time it happens, you panic, because it's a frightening thing to watch," Frank Kill said. "But [Kill's wife] Rebecca knows what to do and knows that he'll be fine."

Lasting effects unlikely

The image of Kill wildly churning his arms and legs and thrashing his head uncontrollably on the ground was so disturbing, Big Ten Network chose not to air taped footage of the seizure. But the violence of the spasms belie the relatively harmless nature of most seizures, according to a former president of the American Epilepsy Society.

"People who have a seizure are usually back to normal within an hour or two. It's the muscle aches from the intense exertion that linger, but there generally are no lasting effects of the seizure itself," said Dr. Ilo Lippik, an epileptologist at MINCEP Epilepsy Care and adjunct professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. "Hopefully, this will be seen as a non-event in the long term. It's something that made news, but it's not something that should affect how he does his job."

Roughly one in 10 Americans suffer similar seizures during their lifetime, though advances in medication have made seizures in public far more rare than they once were, Lippik said. Some can be traced to scar tissue on the brain, but not all the causes are known.

People who have had multiple seizures can sometimes feel them coming on, and are taught to lie down to prevent being injured in a fall. It's possible Kill knelt because he recognized what was about to happen, Dr. Lippik said, though once the seizure begins, victims "are absolutely not aware of what is happening. It's not unusual for someone to [stop convulsing] and say, 'Why is everyone looking at me?'" Dr. Lippik said. "I like to say it's like your brain is a computer that is rebooting -- it is completely overloaded until it shuts down, and it slowly resets itself."

Though he cannot speak to Kill's condition specifically, Lippik said it's unlikely that it is related to the kidney cancer that Kill battled six years ago. And it's also unlikely to be related to the stress of a football game -- despite the coincidence that Kill's spell began just before the Gophers' game-deciding fourth-down play.

"Much more likely is that spending so many hours in the sun, exerting himself so hard, brought on dehydration," Lippik said. "But the good news is that if he is cognizant of drinking enough fluids and taking his medication, there is no reason to expect a recurrence."

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