Team Jack Gala

Team Jack Gala

Friday, April 22, 2016
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MARK SCHWANINGER, EDITOR, LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR

Jim Kelly, the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback who led the Buffalo Bills to four Super Bowls from 1991-94, knows what it’s like to live with cancer and to have a young child taken by a fatal disease.

Kelly was the keynote speaker at the third-annual Team Jack Gala March 5 at Embassy Suites in downtown Lincoln. The event raised $406,000 for the Team Jack Foundation, which supports pediatric brain cancer research and awareness.

“In three years, this event alone has raised over $1 million for pediatric brain cancer research,” said Kylie Dockter, Team Jack Foundation executive director.

The foundation was named after Jack Hoffman, now age 10, who battled brain cancer and gained national attention when he ran 69 yards for a touchdown in the 2013 Husker spring game. The run, which is approaching 9 million views on YouTube, won Jack an ESPY Award for Best Moment.

Kelly has devoted much of his post-football life to his son, Hunter, who was diagnosed at the age of 4 months with Krabbe disease (globoid-cell leukodystrophy), which destroys the protective coating (myelin) of nerve cells in the brain and throughout the nervous system.

“The doctor told us the average life span for this disease was 14 months,” Kelly told the audience of 700 guests who packed the Embassy Suites banquet room. “For a year and a half, my wife and I woke up every morning and wondered if this was the day that the good Lord was going to take our son.”

Kelly said he prayed every night that Hunter would live to see him inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August 2002. “My prayers were answered,” he said. “My son was there on one of the most exciting days of my life.”

Hunter passed away Aug. 5, 2005, at age 8. Kelly established an organization called Hunter’s Hope to raise funds to fight the disease.

In 2011, Kelly began a battle with serious health issues of his own. They included back surgery, double hernia surgery and neck surgery, all within a 13-month period.

Then in June 2013, Kelly was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of cancer, in his upper jaw. Shortly after surgery, he was pronounced cancer-free. But on March 14, 2014, he learned that his cancer had reoccurred, and he underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments. By Aug. 20 of that year, doctors told him they could no longer find evidence of cancer.

Months later, he found out how serious his cancer had been. While getting ready for an appearance on the “Today Show,” he heard his brother tell a reporter that doctors had given him a 10 percent chance to live. When he asked his brother why he didn’t tell him sooner, he replied, “’The way you were fighting and the way your attitude was, we didn’t want to change a thing,’” Kelly shared

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