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Minnesota football coach's public battle with epilepsy seizures and stigma

by AirTalk®

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Head coach Jerry Kill of the Minnesota Golden Gophers stands on the sidelines before the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on October 1, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Leon Halip/Getty Images

The University of Minnesota's football coach, Jerry Kill, missed his team's game day last weekend due to an epileptic seizure. It's the second time this season Coach Kill suffered a game-day seizure, but the first time he missed an entire game.

Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys stepped in as acting coach. After Minnesota's win on Saturday, Claeys explained, "We have been through a lot of battles together.... We miss him here as a friend. We are all pretty much used to this, and so are the kids."

When Minnesota hired the top-performing coach they knew he suffered from epilepsy. In his three seasons with the school, Kill has had five seizures on the same day as a game. Local sports columnists have not be as kind as Kill's team - some have called for him to step down arguing his epilepsy hurts the team and his seizures create an unsightly spectacle.

More than three million Americans live with epilepsy. Depending on their exact condition, the vast majority are able to live fully functional lives thanks to medication and/or diet. Lifestyle can also affect epilepsy - for some, stressful situations are an aggravating factor. However, for some very driven individuals with epilepsy a lack of stress can be just as aggravating. 

Is coaching a "Big Ten" team too high-stakes for Coach Kill or is it a good fit for a natural leader? How much of coaching is what happens behind the scenes as opposed to on the field? What advances have been made in epilepsy research to help people manage their disease?


Alex Friedrich, Reporter, Minnesota Public Radio

Dr. Jerome Engel, M.D., Professor of Neurology & Physician, UCLA Medical Center; Director, UCLA's Seizure Disorder Center;  Fellow, American Academy of Neurology and a renowned epilepsy expert

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