Jay Bothroyd’s story

Published: September 17 2022
Last updated: September 28 2022

Footballer Jay talks about his epilepsy

“I wish my family and loved ones didn’t have to see me have seizures as it’s very scary for them. I’m then having to ask them what happened because I can’t remember. It’s not a nice situation for them to relive.”

Professional footballer Jay lives in Japan and is a striker for Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. He lives on Hokkaido, an island at the north tip of Japan.

Originally from north London, Jay was picked up by Arsenal at 10 years old and rocketed through the academy system as one of the standout players. At 18, he went on to play for Coventry City, spending three years with the Sky Blues and becoming the club’s top-scorer with 11 goals during the 2002–2003 season. He signed with Italian club Perugia in 2003 and later returned to England and played for Blackburn Rovers, Charlton Athletic, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Stoke City, Cardiff City, Queens Park Rangers and Sheffield Wednesday. He is only the second English player ever to play in the J1 league in Japan, after Gary Lineker. Jay was diagnosed with epilepsy in his late teens, after having his first seizure at his friend’s house. By then he had left home and was playing for Coventry. He takes lamotrigine twice daily. He has very occasional seizures, usually as a result of combining exhaustion, lack of sleep, missing meals and drinking.

Jay is often awake during his seizures. “I tend to get a warning before a seizure, a strange feeling behind my eyes is the only way I can describe it. I usually get the chance to lie down or get myself home before it happens. But it can take me a day to recover. I have tried to rest and go straight into training the next day, so as not to draw attention to it. But that’s not ideal. I’ve only ever had one seizure during training and never during a game.”

Jay admits managing seizures hasn’t been easy. “When I was younger I didn’t take it seriously,” he admits. “I made mistakes with my epilepsy. I often missed taking my tablets and that, combined with other factors, would mean I had a seizure. About 8 years later, when I was 26, I knew I had to change. I had a seizure in the car and I ended up driving into someone’s garden.

Overdoing it tends to bring on a seizure. “I have a big burn on my arm from a seizure in Portugal. I’d had a really busy day training and going out in the evening. The next day I had a seizure and fell onto a parked car in the baking heat. I got burned and it melted my tattoo.

“But I know I’ve been really lucky,” says Jay. “My wife Stella reminds me of that and tells me to be careful. It’s hard to live spontaneously, but I’ve just have to be prepared and take my tablets with me wherever I go. It’s one thing when you’re young and you have no kids or family to really worry about. But over the years, I’ve got stricter about my health.

“It’s harder for everyone else to see me have a seizure. Three years ago, my family were out here in Japan for my birthday. We’d a busy day and later on I had a seizure in a taxi. My son must have been about 15 at the time and he was really upset. He said seeing me weak and helpless, and not knowing what to do, was really scary. Having him see me like that, how upset he was… I felt so bad.

“I have talked to my neurologist about the possibility of surgery. They can see the scarring at the front of my brain and say it could be taken out. But I’m not sure I want to go through that, unless my epilepsy gets worse. I try not to let it get to me, in terms of my attitude. I’ve always been a strong believer in doing the best you can. Epilepsy isn’t going to stop me achieving my dreams. Speaking out about epilepsy is important to me too, as I think it can stay hidden. There must be many more people in sport who are living with the condition and just keeping quiet about it.”

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