EDITORS NOTE: This article originally ran on July 3, 2017. We are bringing it back to the surface because Bryan is going under for brain surgery on August 14th, and when he comes out the other side we want him to be even further along in his jersey journey than he is now.
Just picture it. You’re a recent college graduate, you’ve got your first big boy job, and on the way to work you lose control. It’s not raining or snowing, the car is in impeccable shape.
No, the problem is you. You’re having a seizure.
Bryan Black is many things. He’s a diehard college basketball fan, he’s a great and loving father, and he also suffers from medial temporal lobe epilepsy. As interesting as that sounds, that first thing might help him with the second by preventing the third.
Bryan’s obsession with college basketball has been going on for some time now, all the way back nearly 15 years to when he was a student at the Universty of Oregon.
“I was just really obsessed with college basketball. As far back as my fraternity, I followed college basketball religiously – I knew every single team and what conference they were in, and I still have that memorized. Everybody in my fraternity would marvel at it like, ‘how do you know this?’ and I’d just say because I love to watch and it’s a passion of mine.”
Epilepsy began a little bit later on, in 2008. Bryan was a new college graduate on the way to a new job when he had what turned out to be a partial seizure.
“It was a scary feeling,” Black said. “I’m driving the car and I was like ‘am I going to lose consciousness and die here’? All day I had this strange sensation. I couldn’t understand language or speak for myself. I could do the basics like breathing but I was just stuck inside my body existing in the moment.”
The seizures continued for Bryan, and they also continued to happen more and more frequently. In September of 2012 he had a large seizure in his sleep, what’s known as a tonic-clonic or grand mal seizure. It progressed to the point that he would have a major seizure every few weeks and any number of partial seizures.
Let’s pause here for a second because I want you to have an idea of what Bryan has experienced in the past and continues to experience to this day.
That’s just one example of these tonic-clonic, or grand mal, seizures. If you watch closely you can see his coloring hand slow down and stop (the tonic or freezing portion of the seizure) followed by a full-blown clonic phase where his entire body is fully tensed up and twitching on a grand scale.
He’s got absolutely no control over this seizure, and neither does anyone else around him. There is literally nothing that can be done other than waiting for it to be over. Now imagine this happening to you once a month, with multiple other smaller seizures in between. You can imagine how terrifying this must be for yourself, or your wife, or your young children if they’re around for it.
Not only that, but once the seizure is over you’re not done yet, because that few seconds to few minutes of uncontrollable full-body spasm is now followed by an indeterminate period of time where it feels like someone beat you up in your sleep. You just did 500 pushups, 500 situps and ran a 5K at a dead sprint simultaneously, and your body needs some time to recover.
Eventually, Bryan enlisted the help of enough doctors to get formally diagnosed with medial temporal lobe epilepsy. This is a slight variation on temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) which is the most common form of epilepsy, accounting for about 80% of all cases, and the challenge comes from where these TLE bouts originate from – the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is the part of your brain that converts short-term memory into long-term memory, and as such, any damage to it (like the sort of lesion that would cause epilepsy) could result in memory loss over time. It also can directly or indirectly lead to depression. The type and severity of the injury – whether the epilepsy is caused by a lesion to the hippocampus, a tumor pushing on the hippocampus, or a developmental malformation (dysplasia) in the hippocampus – can determine how treatable the condition is and how long-term the related problems will be.
For Bryan, that process currently involves a lot of testing. He just finished a week in the hospital that included his latest MRI and sleep test to assess whether the injury to his brain and the associated symptoms have progressed or remain stable, and as long as they have there is likely a surgery in his future to remove the offending hippocampus (don’t worry, he’s got two) in order to try and lead a much more normal life.
That’s a good bit to deal with, but fortunately for Bryan, he has a woman who is his rock and who has helped him get through all of this with his sanity intact. Bryan eventually found out over time, by tracking his seizures in a diary, that college basketball season just happened to be the time of year when his seizures were less frequent and less severe. This gave the sport even greater importance in his life than it already had.
“I’ve always appreciated the unifying nature of college basketball,” Bryan said. “You can have two people in the stands with different everything, but if they’ve got the same jersey on they manage to get along for as long as they are in those stands. It felt really meaningful to me, plus knowing all the work these universities do in researching things like epilepsy that are important to the community even more than sports are.”
Bryan decided that he would combine his love of college basketball and his appreciation for the entire landscape of teams by trying to get a jersey from every single school, but he gradually figured out that it could prove challenging.
“I eventually realized that you can’t just stop into any and every campus bookstore and scoop up a jersey. They might have them at Eastern Washington, but you can’t just drop into Canisius and scoop a basketball jersey off the rack.”
Bryan’s dream has been made even more complicated by the fact that he is now no longer able to legally drive, and it’s now summertime, which means basketball dead time and seizure busy time. This gives him no real choice but to seek out school officials who are willing to give him a jersey out of the goodness of their hearts. Fortunately for him, that’s been a lot so far. When we first ran this a year ago, Bryan had just received jerseys number 82, 83 and 84 and now as of a month ago he was at 229.
Bryan is looking forward to getting on the other side of this disease, and hopefully the upcoming testing and surgery will be the thing that gets him there. Until then, he’s got the love of a great wife and beautiful children to keep him grounded, and the generosity of dozens of college basketball programs to keep him dreaming until he reaches his goal.
If you would like to help us help Bryan reach that goal, please reach out to us on any of our social media platforms, or by commenting down below. Additionally, you can check out his google doc of what he does and doesn’t have and just go ahead and make it happen. Any well wishes, jerseys, or other gifts can be sent to Bryan at the following address:
724 Gentle Ct E
Monmouth, OR 97361
He is a XXL if you have one to spare, just please god no mediums.
You can also find Bryan on Twitter @353jerseys4hope