Kelly Has Been Fighting Another Battle In Memory Of His Son

In this February 2008 file photo, Jim Kelly signs an autograph during his appearance at the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner. P-J file photo

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article appeared in The Post-Journal on June 17, 2007, the day after Pro Football Hall-of-Fame quarterback Jim Kelly sat down with Scott Kindberg before the 10th annual “Scramble for Hope,” which was a fundraiser for Hunter’s Hope Foundation, at Chautauqua Golf Club. In light of Kelly receiving the Jimmy V award at the ESPYS Wednesday night — the former Buffalo Bills’ great has undergone several surgeries in his battle with oral cancer — it was deemed appropriate to run the article again. He is also waging another battle — increasing public awareness of Krabbe Disease and other leukodystrophies, as well as to increase the likelihood of early detection and treatment. Kelly and his wife, Jill, established Hunter’s Hope Foundation after their infant son, Hunter, was diagnosed with Krabbe Disease (global-cell leukodystrophy).

CHAUTAUQUA — The Pro Football Hall of Fame is an ultra-exclusive fraternity reserved for the National Football League’s immortals.

Jim Kelly is proud to be a member.

But the former Buffalo Bills’ quarterback — the leader of a team that made four straight trips to the Super Bowl in the 1990s — doesn’t believe that his enshrinement in Canton, Ohio, is his most important accomplishment.

Others are beginning to agree.

In this February 2008 file photo, Hall-of-Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, right, poses for the camera with Jamestown resident Joe DiMaio and his grandson, Cole Joly, at the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame banquet. P-J file photo

“(ESPN on-air personality) Chris Berman said, “Your legacy 10 years from now will not be that you’re a Hall-of-Fame quarterback playing for the Buffalo Bills,” Kelly said Saturday afternoon as he sat on the patio outside the clubhouse at Chautauqua Golf Club. “He said, ‘It will be what you’ve done to change the lives of thousands of kids.'”

Kelly made his comments just prior to hitting the links for the 10th annual “Scramble for Hope.” Sponsored by Cummins, the event — spearheaded by Bob Carlett of Ashville — was a benefit for Hunter’s Hope Foundation. The foundation was established in 1997 by Kelly and his wife, Jill, after their infant son, Hunter, was diagnosed with Krabbe Disease (global-cell leukodystrophy).

Since then, the Kellys, according to the Hunter’s Hope website, have made a lifelong commitment to increase public awareness of Krabbe Disease and other leukodystrophies, as well as to increase the likelihood of early detection and treatment.

That’s why Kelly, also the father of two girls, made the trip from his Orchard Park home to the Southern Tier on Father’s Day weekend.

“This is the 10th anniversary and (Carlett) has done such an unbelievable job,” Kelly said. “I had to be here for this.”

Hitting the road to enhance awareness of Krabbe Disease and other leukodystrophies, as well as to increase the likelihood of early detection and treatment, has been Kelly’s mission. He and Jill will meet with NFL commissioner and Jamestown native Roger Goodell on Friday in New York to discuss the league teaming up with Hunter’s Hope Foundation to encourage the enhancement of newborn screening.

“Too many kids are going undiagnosed until it’s too late,” Kelly said. “We’re not giving these kids a chance to dream like their father have. Too many kids are getting lives cut short because when they’re born and they find something wrong they’re diagnosed at four, six, eight months. Then it’s too late and they don’t get a chance.

“Diagnose them at birth, give them screening tests and let’s take care of them, and give them a chance for a quality of life.”

Such tests weren’t available for Hunter when he was born on Feb. 14, 1997, which just happened to be his father’s 37th birthday. Hunter died in August 2005, but Kelly believes that his son’s legacy will one day result in a cure.

“A year from today this country will be changed for what we’ve been able to do,” he said. “I also know that if I don’t do it, nobody else is going to do it. I know why I was chosen to be a father of a special needs child, I know why my son was born on my birthday and I know why he went through what he went through. He went through what he had to go through to wake me up so that I can make a difference for other families and other kids across the country.”

Kelly readily admits that he’s a changed man and even confided that he became a Christian less than two months ago.

“When my son was born, my wife needed some guidance, and she didn’t have it. Of course, when she became a Christian, she really started believing that God does make a difference in your life. It took me a while to realize that, but I’m now a Christian, as of April 23 of this year. My life has definitely changed. … The good Lord above is part of me now.”

Carlett said the golf scramble has generated just about $53,000 since its inception a decade ago.

“When (Kelly) comes down it definitely sparks interest in our people,” he said. “He will leave the group he came down with, he’ll run around and play a hole with as many people as he can and he’ll pose for pictures. He does a great job with that.”

Charles DeAngelo, a partner with the Jamestown law firm Fessenden, Laumer & DeAngelo, is a member of the Hunter’s Hope board of directors. Like Kelly, he’s impressed with the work that Carlett has done.

“When I joined the board, they told me about Bob Carlett and the Chautauqua County event, and the executive director told me that they considered it one of their best.”

Kelly certainly looked right at home as he addressed the more than 100 golfers just before they teed off.

“I realize how important it is for me to get out there and keep pushing along,” he said. “The bottom line is I’m not going to stop until every state in the United States tests for the maximum amount of treatable diseases. We will make a difference.”

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