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Continued: Gophers coach Jerry Kill tackles epilepsy at pivotal point in his career

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: October 10, 2013 - 4:30 PM

Athletic Director Norwood Teague said he tried getting Kill to cut back this summer, but the coach stayed busier than ever, speaking all over the state. Kill can’t drive because of the seizures, so he leaves that to his wife or Dan O’Brien, the associate athletic director for football.

“Jerry’s relentless, and that’s what makes him great,” Teague said. “But it’s our job to try to take things off his plate.”

Kill figures any coach who rests is signing up for defeat. Besides, he says, he feels better than he has for the past eight years.

***

Rebecca Kill admits she’s a worrier. Her main concern is making sure someone familiar with seizures is there for her husband when he has them. She and her daughters know the drill — keep calm, make sure the seizure lasts less than five minutes, make sure he’s breathing, and let it run its course.

“Every time he has [a seizure], I learn something more about it,” she said. “I know what to help him with, and I don’t get as scared about it.”

Epilepsy affects everyone differently. Some patients gain control over their seizures, and others have several each day.

An estimated 50,000 Americans die each year from seizures, with most the result of falls or suffocation. Olympic track star Florence Griffith Joyner died in her sleep from an epileptic seizure at age 38.

But other famous people with epilepsy have sustained long, successful careers: Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, rock musician Neil Young, former major league manager Buddy Bell and nine-time NFL Pro Bowl offensive lineman Alan Faneca.

Some seizures result in slurred speech or a blank stares; others involve convulsions.

The ones Kill suffered against New Mexico State and Michigan State — with the stiffening and then jerking of his limbs and head — were once known as grand mal seizures, but are now called tonic-clonic seizures.

Kill has no recollection of his seizures when he wakes up and says it feels as if he’s been hit by a truck. He’s groggy, and his muscles are severely taxed from the convulsions.

Some people need days to recover, but Kill is proud of how little work he’s missed in his career.

Yes, there’s a slight risk of brain damage when a tonic-clonic seizure lasts up to 20 minutes, but those instances are rare and well beyond anything Kill has experienced.

“There are a lot of people who have epilepsy, and they do their jobs just fine,” said Leppik, a University of Minnesota professor of pharmacy and neurology and a former president of the American Epilepsy Society. “Once you recover, seizures generally do not cause any real long-term changes in your ability to do whatever.”

Leppik, who spoke generally, not specifically of Kill, did say periods of stress and sleep deprivation can reduce a body’s resistance to seizures.

Those factors are practically built into Kill’s job.

***

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  • University of Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill and his wife Rebecca walked the trail along the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis Saturday, July 27, 2013.](DAVID JOLES/STARTRIBUNE) djoles@startribune.com University of Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill talks about handling his seizures and his expectations for the coming football season.

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