Louisiana Tech strength coach Kurt Hester didn't know something was wrong until he spilled his drink on himself twice while driving earlier this spring. He couldn't feel the left side of his face.
“All of a sudden I couldn’t drink, I could barely talk, and the whole left side of my face was numb,” Hester said. “I wasn’t sure what was happening but I just tried to finish my drive home."
After doctors ran a multitude of tests, he was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which occurs when a shingles infection affects the facial nerve near an ear. It's caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, and if it refires and hits that facial nerve, it can cause Ramsay Hunt.
It caused the left side of Hester's face to be paralyzed and it also gave him severe vertigo, which could strike without warning.
“With the inner ear aspect of Ramsay Hunt, vertigo is pretty common,” Hester said. “The facial paralysis didn’t bother me – I could figure out how to eat and drink differently. But there were times I couldn’t orient which way was up and I would have to drop to a knee and grab ahold of the ground or something until it passed and I could figure out which way was up.”
When Hester was diagnosed, Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz told him to take some time off. Hester didn't want to and kept working. He even practiced with the team in April, donning pads and a helmet, looking just as fit as the players and participating in running back drills.
He didn't take time off and practiced with the team to help continue the theme of "Embrace the suck" he instituted after Louisiana Tech went 4-8 in 2013. His facial paralysis is still visible, though it's gotten better along with the vertigo since March. There's a risk of the paralysis being permanent and through treatment, Hester hopes to recover fully.
“Some of our guys are perfectly healthy and some face soreness, tweaked ankles or strained hamstrings,” Hester said. “I was paralyzed on one side of my face. I am 50 years old. I don’t play football on a daily basis. I have a million reasons why I could not finish or even start any of those drills but I don’t allow myself to think ‘I can’t’ and I don’t teach our kids to think ‘I can’t.’ In the right frame, the mind is stronger than any muscle in the body and can prove to the body it can do far more than what anyone thinks is capable.”
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