Seizure result of too little sleep, too much work

Originally Published: July 24, 2007
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins was zipping around high school gyms in Las Vegas Monday, traversing the city in a rental car.

But he wasn't driving. He can't, and he won't for five more months.

Hawkins had a seizure in his office on June 29. He spent three days in the hospital. And as a result of the seizure, under Michigan state law, he can't drive for six months.

So, for the foreseeable future, Hawkins needs a driver. That means assistants Clayton Bates and Cornell Mann have chauffeured him around Las Vegas and at last week's Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C.

Once Hawkins returns to Kalamazoo, Mich., his new director of basketball operations, Phil Sayers, will be his driver. Sayers will pick up Hawkins early in the morning -- before 7 a.m. when workouts and practices begin -- and then either Sayers or Hawkins' wife, Lana, will drive him home at the end of the day.

Steve Hawkins
AP Photo/Danny MoloshokSteve Hawkins' coaching lifestyle contributed to a seizure that put him in the hospital for three days.

But how did this happen to a seemingly healthy 44-year-old coach?

Well, the key word here is "seemingly." Upon further examination, Hawkins found that his lifestyle may have contributed to his condition, and what he learned serves as fair warning to all coaches who burn too much of the day and sleep too little at night.

"What I was told was they don't want to find a reason [like an abnormality] for a seizure because if they do, then it's usually pretty bad like a tumor or meningitis or something along those lines," Hawkins said by phone from Las Vegas. "So, they let me talk about my lifestyle. I started talking to the neurologist for a while, and he had heard enough.

"I told him that I had gone six straight weeks where I had not gotten over six hours of a sleep a night, and I was coming off a night when I had two-and-a-half hours of sleep. It was our 10th camp day in the last 12 days, and I was trying to hire two assistant coaches."

Hawkins said he was told by his doctors that sleep deprivation can be a powerful trigger of seizures and exhaustion.

"The doctors said there were no guarantees, but they were willing to bet that it was that," Hawkins said.

So Hawkins is on anti-seizure medication to be sure, and he's ensuring that he's getting six to seven hours of sleep a night.

"I don't know the last time I was in bed in Las Vegas at 12:30 a.m., but it's happening now," Hawkins said.

He's also seeking out advice on how to handle the medical condition and the stress. He said that Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson called him and told him that he had a similar episode when he was at Montana Tech in the early 1980s. Sampson has not had a seizure since.

"I had a reaction, a seizure, a bad one when I was at Montana Tech, more of a reaction to iodine after I had back surgery," Sampson said Tuesday. "My mother came out, and my wife was pregnant, and it was just a hard time. I heard about [Hawkins'] seizures, and I wanted to call him. I haven't had any problems since. It's an unbelievable thing to not have control of your body. [Hawkins] is a good guy and a good coach. I knew that after we played them last season."

When Hawkins was at the Peach Jam last week, he sought out Ohio State's Thad Matta. Matta is nursing a surgically repaired back and, like Hawkins and many other coaches, is an intense competitor and a tireless worker.

"We just talked about lifestyle," Hawkins said.

Hawkins' adjustment to a more balanced schedule has been made easier by the fact that he hasn't had to extend himself too much this month because he has a veteran team returning. The Broncos finished 16-16 last season and 9-7 in the MAC with a roster void of seniors.

Western Michigan had its moments last season, beating Virginia Tech by three in Orlando, taking out San Diego State at home by 11 and crushing league favorite Kent State at home by 22 points.

Despite the prospect of competing in the always tough MAC this season, Hawkins anticipates coaching without any issues, barring unforeseen complications. He's learned his lesson.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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