There is a certain toughness about those Kellys. Dad, Jim, was one tough football player and even tougher off the field as he’s battled his way through oral cancer. Son, Hunter, made it to 8 years old when he wasn’t given much of a shot to make it past 2. Together, Jim Kelly’s family and Hunter’s inspiration have helped many through “Hunter’s Hope Foundation,” an organization that helps support, emotionally and financially, those affected by fatal illnesses such as Krabbe Disease, the one that took Hunter’s life.
Hunter Kelly’s battle
Like his father, former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly, Hunter Kelly was born on Valentine’s Day. Hunter came into the world on Feb. 14, 1997, and was diagnosed with Krabbe disease, a degenerative disorder of the nervous system that typically kills its victims in the first 13 months, according to The Los Angeles Times. Hunter battled his way through the disease before it took him when he was 8 years old.
Hunter was diagnosed in August of 1997 and the Kellys immediately took action. The family founded “Hunter’s Hope Foundation” that raised more than $2 million in the first few months of action. “Everybody everywhere knows about Krabbe’s now,” Kelly said in 1998. “Our No. 1 objective at the beginning was to raise awareness. I think we’ve done exactly what we wanted to do.”
Hunter Kelly died Friday, Aug. 5, 2005. The Kelly family appreciated every moment they had with the tough little guy who overcame the odds. “You thank God every time you wake up in the morning and your son is there,” Kelly told The LA Times after Hunter’s first birthday. “This is the most ultimate for me, sharing this special birthday with my son. You don’t know if age 2 will be around.”
Jim Kelly’s cancer battle
Jim Kelly is a Hall-of-Fame quarterback who spent 11 seasons with the Buffalo Bills. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler and guided his team to four Super Bowl appearances. He finished his career with 237 touchdown passes and threw for better than 35,000 yards. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
After his playing days were over, Kelly has undergone a seven-year battle with cancer. He was diagnosed with cancer in his jaw in 2013. After multiple surgeries, his cancer has returned twice. In 2019, however, Kelly underwent an MRI that showed he was cancer free. His wife, Jill, posted the news on her Instagram account.
In June of 2019, Kelly said he still had a few more treatments to go, but he was feeling pretty good. He knows the cards he’s been dealt and he’ll keep playing. And he’ll keep smiling while doing so. “I still have a couple more procedures to go through in my mouth, but that’s all part of the rehab, part of the reconstruction,” he told goerie.com. “It’s part of my life so I just fight on and keep going. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I have a smile on my face today.”
Jim Kelly said Hunter is the toughest person he knew
When Hunter Kelly passed away in August of 2005, “Hunter’s Hope Foundation” had already raised more than $6 million and it continues to help others battling Krabbe Disease and other Leukodystrophies. Hunter and the rest of the Kelly family continue to make a difference.
During his Hall-of-Fame speech in 2002, Jim Kelly ended his talk with a touching tribute to Hunter.” Since the day I was selected, I prayed to God that my son would be here with me today,” he said. “God has granted me that blessing. It has been written throughout my career that toughness is my trademark. Well, the toughest person I’ve ever met in my life is my hero, my soldier, my son, Hunter. I love you, buddy.”
“He’ll never be able to do what daddy did,” Kelly said about Hunter to outsidethebeltway.com in 2005. “But he’s going to do greater things. He’s going to make a difference in kids’ lives. He already has.” And still is.