Dalton Richey, an 18-year-old varsity football player and pole vaulter from Texas, first came to our attention when his mom shared a photo of him with the Foundation on Facebook.
In the photo Dalton showed his support for University of Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill who, like Dalton, is living with epilepsy. Our Foundation post of Dalton's photo became one of our most popular posts ever with almost 3,500 likes, 472 shares, and 630 comments!
We asked Dalton a few questions about him and his living with epilepsy last month...
Tell us about how you were diagnosed with epilepsy. What kind? At what age?
Dalton: I was 11 years old and had just went to bed. I had a terrible headache and I woke up in the middle of the seizure. I tried to get out of bed, but couldn't stand and fell to the floor. When my parents came in the room the right side of my face was drawn up, I was drooling and could not speak. It looked as if I had a stroke. I was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. I spent two days with no more episodes so they discharged me and told my parents to take me to a neurologist. They did an EEG and said I had left hemispheric spikes in my brain. The doctor diagnosed me with Benign Rolandic Epilepsy and said I should out grow them by the age of 16 or 17. Over the next 4 1/2 years I had over 50 seizures -- two of which were Tonic Clonic. My neurologist says my typical seizures are simple partial seizures and also complex partial.
Did your doctor(s) tell you that there was a danger for you to play sports or were your seizures controlled enough to continue?
When I first diagnosed they didn't say I couldn't play sports. She just told me not to swim alone, wear my helmet while riding a bike, not to climb trees or ladders...I played basketball at that time but not football. I didn't start football until 8th grade when I was 14. She said I could play just as long as I didn't get a concussion and as long as my seizures were under control. The funny part is I have never had a seizure during football season, only off season.
Do you still continue to have seizures or how long have you been seizure free?
I have been seizure free for two years and eight months. :)
Tell us a little about your relationship with your parents and how they reacted to your diagnosis and you wanting to continue to play sports.
I love my parents and get along with them very well. I can tell them anything. My mom was sad when I was diagnosed. She was afraid I wouldn't have a normal life and was worried about me all the time. When I told my mom I wanted to play football and I thought she was going to say no, but instead she said go for it! Then at the end of my 8th grade year I came home and told my parents I was going to do track. They asked what I was going to do and I said, "I'm going to pole vault." They weren't overly thrilled with this decision, but stood by me anyways. My neurologist thought I was a little nuts!
How did your friends and teachers react when you were first diagnosed? How about teammates later on or more recently?
I had a seizure one day in math class in 5th grade. I walked up to her during the seizure and couldn't speak and she scooped me up in her arms and carried me to the nurse. I was almost as big as she was!
As far as my teammates go, they watch out for me and support me. Every now and then they poke fun at me, but not to be mean. In the first varsity game I played in this year, I got hit from behind and knocked off my feet and my helmet flew off and I rolled across the sidelines. The coaches were concerned and so were some of my teammates. Coach Gary said, "Are you alright Richey?" I muttered "Yes" and he said, "Get your helmet on and get back out there!" I'm not going to lie it was a rush and a great feeling!
What inspired you to take the picture in support of Coach Kill after your homecoming game? If you could say anything to him what would it be?
When [a] reporter said that Coach Kill should step down because the people pay to see a winning football program and his health was getting in the way of his coaching, it made me angry. So I wanted to take the picture to show people that you can have epilepsy and still do what you love...that epilepsy should not define who you are. It is just a part of your life, but not your whole life.
If I could meet Coach Kill I would encourage him to keep doing what he loves despite what anyone else says or thinks. Those critics do not live with epilepsy and do not know what it is like.
What would you say to anyone living with a similar type of epilepsy who may be nervous about playing sports or have parents who are nervous about it?
I would say go for it and do what you love! As long as your seizure are under control, nothing should stop you. Hopefully their parents will understand and be supportive like mine. To be honest, sports helped me feel better about myself and made me more outgoing. I was a part of something and didn't feel so alone...after my diagnosis I had shut down and quit talking to just about everyone. I knew no one else with epilepsy and felt totally alone. Sports helped me come out of my shell again and gain confidence.
What are your plans for the future? What job would you like to have? Do you still want to play sports in college?
I want to go to college and study something in the health field. I either want to be a physical therapist, a neurologist, or a nurse for pediatric neurology.
I really want to pole vault in college [but] I need to get two more feet to be able to make a reality. I am going to work really hard this spring to get up to 14 feet!
So far your photo has been viewed 135,000 times, making it one of our most popular posts ever. What did it feel like to see the reaction you received about your photo and story?
I was completely shocked! I did not expect people to react that way. To be honest I thought people may just look at it and say that was really nice of that kid. [I] didn't think they would relate to my story as much as they did. I just wanted Coach Kill to know he had supporters out there for him and we shouldn't let epilepsy keep us on the sidelines of our own lives.