We Stand with Coach Kill!

By Warren Lammert, Chair, Epilepsy Foundation

Coach Jerry Kill of the University of Minnesota had a seizure on the sidelines of the Western Illinois game on Saturday afternoon. Seizures are scary and unpredictable but are also part of the routine for too many people who live with epilepsy. Coach Kill's team has been there before and knew how to respond. They stayed calm, stayed focused and stayed with Coach's game plan, going on to a 29-12 victory.

Coach Kill's determination, courage and leadership have become an inspiration for his players, staff and school, college football and sports fans in the Twin Cities and the 60,000 Minnesotans -- and more than 2 million people in the U.S. -- who, like Coach Kill, live with epilepsy and seizures.

"Jerry's job just isn't about Saturdays. He's evaluated on multiple criteria including academic progress and the character development of our student athletes," said University of Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague. "What he provides to these young men in terms of leadership and development on an ongoing basis is immeasurable. In fact, this past year we registered one of the highest single-year jumps in academic progress in rating history. These are quality young men that you saw on Saturday…and all of that is due to Jerry's influence."

Coach Kill has been a leader not only in college football but in the epilepsy community. At the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota's Camp Oz, Coach Kill invited more than 300+ kids with epilepsy from across the state to a spring practice with the Gophers where he spoke out about his seizures. Coach Kill and other accomplished athletic heroes are leading a new Epilepsy Foundation initiative, "Athletes vs. Epilepsy," to increase awareness and inspire people with epilepsy to reach their potential. For many, Coach Kill's example helps them stand tall against negative perceptions, school bullies and the real challenges of seizures.

Coach Kill works every day through actions and deeds to demonstrate that epilepsy and seizures are simply part of the long list of challenges that come with being human. Epilepsy is not one simple condition but has diverse impacts on individual lives. For too many, epilepsy remains a difficult, and in some cases devastating, disorder. About one third of those with epilepsy have no therapy that will control their seizures and many suffer side-effects from existing medicines. At the same time, with effective therapies, people with epilepsy can live remarkable and productive lives despite their seizures -- as others overcome cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and so many non-health related adversities. World class athletes, coaches, CEOs, and Supreme Court Justices show us there is no limit for those with epilepsy and seizures.

Epilepsy has risks which have been highlighted by several columnists responding to Coach Kill's seizure, and these should neither be exaggerated nor swept under the rug. SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy) and mortality in epilepsy are a part of the picture that has until recently been too little discussed. But although individuals with epilepsy are at higher risk for sudden death, the risk varies greatly. In community samples, the risk of sudden death in epilepsy is approximately 5 cases per 10,000 patient years. In other words, for 2,000 patients with epilepsy followed over 5 years, 5 of them would be predicted to die from their epilepsy. The risk is higher in patients whose seizures cannot be controlled with medications. The best way to manage these risks is to do everything possible to control seizures. And again Coach Kill is a role model in this respect through managing his diet, exercise, and medications by working with experts in epilepsy care.

Life involves risks and stepping up to adversity. If we follow the logic of those who fear injury or bad outcomes, we might as well sideline the entire sport of football. If football ended, we would lose in Coach Kill a role model who inspires every time he steps on the field. The Epilepsy Foundation stands to support people with epilepsy in leading full and active lives while we work day in and day out with researchers, clinicians and companies to support new therapies that can end seizures, epilepsy and SUDEP.

People with epilepsy make what happens between their seizures count. Coach Kill's future is his to make, working with his family, his medical team and the University. We are not going to join those spectators who are second-guessing Coach Kill. In any case, Athletic Director Teague got it right in saying that: "I believe more than ever that [Coach Kill] represents what is right about college football."

Coach Kill embodies strength, determination and character. We at the Epilepsy Foundation join his staff, team, doctors and university in celebrating and supporting Coach Kill and thank him for his example and leadership.

P.S. We congratulate Jason Snelling of the Atlanta Falcons for scoring the game-winning touchdown this week. By the way, Jason has epilepsy.

We support Coach Kill and join with the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota in helping bring attention to some of the misconceptions about epilepsy mentioned in the media. Please visit their page and help support the 60,000 Minnesotans living with epilepsy and seizures who look to Coach as a role model.

Publication Date: September 16, 2013

Our Mission

The mission of the Epilepsy Foundation is to lead the fight to overcome the challenges of living with epilepsy and to accelerate therapies to stop seizures, find cures, and save lives.

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