MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — People are talking about the sudden retirement of Gopher football Coach Jerry Kill because of health issues.
His battle with epilepsy has been a very public one. Gopher fans witnessed the coach having a seizure during halftime at a game in 2013.
“[Epilepsy is] a big monster. I don’t think there’s any question about that part of it,” Kill said. “And, you know, it can wear you out.”
Doctors say the symptoms of epilepsy can be aggravated by stress. Dr. Paul Atkinson is a neurologist with the Minnesota Epilepsy Group in St. Paul.
“Some of the things that can increase the risk of a breakthrough seizure happening, sleep deprivation is one of those things,” Atkinson said. “I can only imagine the amount of work that a coach goes through in terms of preparing for a big game. So certainly could those have an effect on his seizures and epilepsy? It’s certainly a possibility.”
Atkinson says medications help most patients control their seizures, but some people describe a side effect of not feeling like themselves and become reluctant to take their pills.
“It was one of the potential side effects we can see with medication. People can have problems with memory, problems with word finding, some people have dizziness associated with their medications,” Atkinson said.
Coach Kill referenced his own frustrations with epilepsy medicine leading up to a football game.
“As my doctor says, ‘You’re crazy for not taking stuff before a game.’ I said ‘I love this game. I don’t want to let our university down. I want to win,'” Kill said.
Treating neurological disorders can be extremely difficult.
“The brain is still the black box of the body that we don’t have much knowledge about,” Atkinson said. “As much as we know, I think we know about 5 percent of what we need to know to understand the brain. So there’s a lot of challenges with it.”
Coach Kill also offered us all some advice before leaving the news conference.
“At the end of the day, if you don’t have your health, if you don’t have God, you ain’t gonna make it,” Kill said.
Dr. Atkinson called Kill a hero for what he has done to remove the stigma attached to epilepsy patients, and applauded him for raising awareness about the disorder and educating the public.
“And the statement he made at the end is true. It’s not just patients with seizures. It’s general health that’s important, and people take it for granted too often,” Atkinson said.
Kill was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2005 when he was coaching at Southern Illinois. He is also a survivor of kidney cancer.
Atkinson wants to make it clear that most patients who take medication for epilepsy have little to no side effects, and medicines have really improved over the years.
Surgery is a treatment option, but some people are not candidates for it. Atkinson also says that you can develop epilepsy later in life as aging affects the brain.
In fact, people over 65 can and do see seizures for the first time. That older population is a fast-growing group of new epilepsy patients.
For more information on epilepsy, some of the online resources you can check out include Minnesota Epilepsy Group and the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota. Kill also started a fund within that last group called Chasing Dreams.