Where Are They Now, NFL Good Guys: Former Bills Great Jim Kelly
Jim Kelly is considered one of the most elite quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League. He led the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1991-94.
Despite his early reluctance to play in Buffalo, he now concedes being part of the Buffalo Bills was one of the best career choices he ever made.
In 1997, Jim Kelly announced his decision to retire from the only NFL team he played for. In 2001, he became the first and only Buffalo Bills player to have his number (12) officially retired and added to the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame.
In 11 seasons, Jim Kelly led the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs eight times.
At the time of his retirement, his 84.4 passer rating ranked sixth all-time and was second when compared to Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
Jim Kelly's 35,467 career passing yards ranked tenth in NFL history; his 2,874 completions ranked eighth; and his 237 touchdowns ranked thirteenth.
I recently chatted with former Hall of Famer, Buffalo Bill great Jim Kelly. We discussed football, his life since leaving the game and how it has changed in most part due to the life and loss of his son Hunter James Kelly.
The passion he has today in his personal mission to promote Universal Comprehensive Newborn Screening in every state is as vibrant as the passion he had on the gridiron during his playing days.
Jim still calls Western New York home, where he and his wife Jill founded the Hunter’s Hope Foundation in 1997 in Buffalo, after their son, Hunter, was diagnosed with Krabbe Leukodystrophy, an inherited fatal nervous system disease.
While they have been blessed with the opportunity to share Hunter’s story and the hope of the Foundation named after their son all over the world, their greatest passion is to bring encouragement and hope to families in the midst of suffering.
The Foundation’s mission and focus is threefold: to fund research necessary to treat and cure Krabbe Disease as well as other devastating Leukodystrophy, increase newborn screening standards across the United States for the early detection and treatment of all treatable diseases, and ultimately Hunter’s Hope exists to inspire all parents to thank God for their children.
FN: What can you tell me about Hunter's Hope and the mission you are on now?
JK: On February 14th 1997, Valentines Days, my birthday, my son Hunter was born. Within four months, he was diagnosed with a fatal disease called Krabbe Leukodystrophy. The doctors told my wife and me to take him home and make him comfortable.
That was the day Jill and I decided to make it our lifelong commitment to make sure that kids all over the world don't suffer like Hunter did. Each year in the United States, thousands of children needlessly die or become permanently disabled because they were born in the wrong state - states that don’t screen for their disease…and that tears my heart out.
Right now only two states require all newborns to be screened for more than 54 potentially fatal diseases … others, less than 20, and one less than 10. In this country, a child’s chance for a healthy start in life shouldn’t depend on the state they are born in.
But today, it does – and it’s my goal to change that by promoting legislation that provides universal newborn screening. The motto of the foundation is “EVERY CHILD. EVERY TIME. EVERYWHERE! I never won the Super Bowl but my biggest victory will be getting every state to adopt universal newborn screening so we can save lives that are now being lost needlessly. When that day arrives… that will be my Super Bowl victory.
FN: Two states, New York and Missouri, now screen newborns for Krabbe and related disorders, and the organization is pushing for other states to pass legislation or implement screening procedures. With Kelly's lobbying, New York has increased from 11 to 44 diseases tested for, Pennsylvania from 11 to 29, and Kansas from four to 29.
Krabbe Leukodystrophy is a genetic disorder that affects the myelin, or white matter, of the brain. Undiagnosed and untreated, it can cause immense pain and ultimately, death.
Treatment is available in the form of cord blood transplantation; however, early diagnosis is the key to successful outcomes. Newborn screening offers the best chance at diagnosis before the onset of symptoms, at which point it is too late for the option of transplant for most babies