Inside Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields’ journey with epilepsy

LAKE FOREST, Patient — Justin Fields woke up without remembering what was behind the ambulance. All she remembers from that morning in ninth grade was feeling “a little uncomfortable” on her way to Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Georgia.

Fields, who sits in the health class, said he has split the area several times. He would later learn that he had had a seizure and lost consciousness.

The 23-year-old Chicago Bears quarterback, who was 15 at the time, was diagnosed with epilepsy, the fourth most common neurological disorder in the world, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

“I was crying because I didn’t know how this would affect my football career,” Fields recently told ESPN.

As it turned out, it did not affect him at all. In his sophomore season, Fields is emerging as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the NFL, leading all QBs this season with 834 fast yards, despite missing Sunday’s game after his left shoulder split. After a grueling rookie season, Fields was starting to get extravagant before his shoulder injury, including the most 178-yard run with a QB in a Super Bowl-era regular season game against the Miami Dolphins. 9. Week. He counts every day until Sunday’s Green Bay Packers game in Chicago (1:00 PM ET, Fox).

The Bears traded nine places to pick Fields 11 overall in the 2021 audition, and former Bears GM Ryan Pace, who was fired after a 6-11 finish last season, said he was comfortable picking Fields because of the way Chicago handled the situation. .

As November, National Epilepsy Awareness Month, draws to a close, Fields described her journey from that day in ninth grade to understanding the warning signs and taking preventive measures every day to her potential to overcome the condition. . She once said she was reluctant to talk about epilepsy, but now she wants to help raise awareness and be a role model for others.

“I think they Fields said of his first shift: “They said my mouth was foaming and all that.”

After a series of tests, including a CT scan and electroencephalogram, in which electrodes were placed on Fields’ scalp to record his brain’s electrical activity, doctors determined he had epilepsy.

When they learned that Fields’ mother, Gina Tobey, also had epilepsy, they made a hereditary connection. She Tobey was diagnosed in seventh grade, and she said she outgrew the condition around age 19.

“You can definitely grow up,” said Jacqueline French, chief medical officer of the Epilepsy Foundation and professor of neurology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “There are some types of epilepsy you grow up with, and there are others you just can’t get over.”

Tobey said doctors believe puberty triggers the onset of his epilepsy, and he believes it could be the same for Fields. French said that puberty can trigger epilepsy because of the effect of hormones on a person’s seizure threshold.

Tobey shared his journey with Fields, noting the warning signs of an impending seizure. The most important advice she gave him was to stay diligent about taking her meds. Fields takes four pills every morning to prevent seizures.

He said the seizures occurred about a year and a half apart, and he estimates the last one was a few years before he enlisted.

“When I got them, it was just because I wasn’t taking my medicine,” Fields said. “I had one once, and I wanted to see if I grew up because my mother survived it. Let’s see if I survived too. But now I’m not even playing with it.”

Tobey saw a difference in his son’s experience.

“What I noticed unlike me was his recovery time,” she said. “When you have a seizure, it’s like shaking something in a glass. It’s like your brain is bouncing around in your head.

“At the end of the episode, you have these monstrous migraines and it takes a day or two for me to recover. It takes two to three hours for him, he can sleep.”

AREAS ARE WELL CONSCIOUS on how to deal with a possible onset of seizure.

“I know when one comes along, I forget what I’m doing, I go out of the zone and then bang, 30 seconds later I’m locked out and then I’m going to do this two or three times,” he said. “So when I do that two or three times, I know something will come.”

As soon as he thinks that the seizure will come, he immediately lies down and tries to rest.

“The last time I took it, I felt it right away, so I went to lie down and still had it,” she said. “I went to sleep. I think I had it in my sleep, then I woke up and had a headache.

“When I wake up and have a headache, I know I’m having a seizure. My body aches. When you have a seizure, usually all your muscles are flexed… you’ve been flexing your muscles for 45 seconds or a minute.” . So now I know when to get one, I usually just lay down and try to sleep.

Fields may sympathize with how his parents are feeling, including his father, Pablo, a retired Atlanta police officer who is a resource officer at Harrison High.

“When you see your child having a seizure on the floor, you can’t do anything about it. You just have to wait until they wake up,” Fields said. “It’s probably really scary for them. I know my dad, he hates to see them.

“She was always very adamant about taking my meds and making sure I wasn’t too late and not getting enough sleep. She always told me she loved me when I was sleeping. Whenever I sleep, she doesn’t tell me to do anything because she knows sleep will help it.”

Fields may have survived his seizures, but Tobey isn’t leaving anything to chance for now.

“She’s 23 and I’m still like, ‘Are you taking your meds?’ I will say. Because that’s what mothers do about everything.”

AREAS TOLD From high school to college in Georgia and Ohio State and the NFL, he never missed a game due to epilepsy.

“That was my first fear,” Fields said. “When I was first diagnosed, I was like, ‘Damn, football — I get hit on the head all the time. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to play for long.’ But I don’t think it’s a big talk with the neurologist.”

The French said that doctors often recommend caution about playing contact sports with epilepsy, but there is no certainty that rules out someone’s ability to play football. The key, French said, is to make sure the situation is properly controlled.

“If it’s not controlled, then there’s a possibility that someone may have intermittent altered awareness, and if you’re playing a sport where that could put you in danger on its own, then that’s going to be an issue that has to be seriously discussed,” he said.

“We don’t want to put people with epilepsy in a glass box. Every conversation we have with them is: What’s the benefit? What does that mean for you? And what’s the risk? But at the end of the day, if you’re of age, you have to make a decision about what to do.”

Three team sources present at the draft meetings, one from the NFC and two from the AFC, told ESPN that Fields’ epilepsy had emerged in the conversations when they considered him a draft candidate, but that was not seen as a reason not to select him. He handled the situation well.

“[Fields has] The night Pace picked Fields, he’s handled a lot of this sort of thing throughout his life, and we have a lot of ties to the Ohio State football program, and our doctors and trainers are doing a great job,” he said.

Fields said he doesn’t remember having private conversations with the teams about his epilepsy during their pre-draft visits. Athletes First’s manager, David Mulugheta, prepared him for potential questions.

“I mean, it’s crazy, but at the end of the day, it’s a job, so that’s what it’s supposed to be,” Fields said.

When Fields’ epilepsy became public before the draft, Ohio State coach Ryan Day took to Twitter to support the quarterback, who became the first person in OSU history to lead the Buckeyes to back-to-back playoffs. Fields finished third as a sophomore in the Heisman voting.

“Justin’s health, stamina and work ethic have never been an issue, and I am incredibly proud of his professionalism and character on and off the court,” Day said. “The fact that he never missed a game at Ohio State says a lot about how he looks at himself.”

Fields isn’t the first epileptic to play in the NFL. Former Pittsburgh Steelers guard Alan Faneca discussed his experience with epilepsy during his Hall of Fame keynote address in August 2021.

After news broke of Fields’ epilepsy, Faneca said, “If I did it, Justin Fields can do it, and anyone else can.” “It’s part of us, but it doesn’t define us!”

French praised Fields for sharing her journey and using her platform to help raise awareness. Like Faneca, Fields focuses on breaking stigmas and inspiring others, especially children with epilepsy.

“It’s just to create more awareness and then give hope to these kids,” Fields said.

ESPN NFL Insider Jeremy Fowler contributed to this report.

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