Professional footballer Leon Legge was first diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 16 years old.
The defender has been living with epilepsy for 20 years. However, he hasn’t let his condition stop him from becoming a successful professional footballer with close to 400 Football League appearances.
He shared his story of first being diagnosed with epilepsy, how he got into playing football professionally and the support has received from his clubs.
Where did you have your first seizure and how did you feel afterwards?
My first seizure was at football training. I went up to head the ball and I didn’t catch it quite right and then went up to head it again.
The floodlights must have had something to do with my seizure because I came down and remembered everything sort of going dark and fell back and then I woke up.
I don’t know how long later, I just woke up with all my teammates around me and then the next thing I went off in an ambulance.
Luckily my coach at the time, his daughter had epilepsy so he had seen this before and knew what to do.
What type of seizures do you have? How does it affect you?
Tonic-clonic. Now I sort of grown out of the seizures I used to have during the day.
Now my seizures happen at night in my sleep. I had a seizure nearly two weeks ago, my first one for about six to nine months.
I think it was about three o’clock in the morning, so my wife told us that I had a seizure, I woke up and I felt rough.
This particular one, I had back pain for about three days and unfortunately, I weigh 93 kilos so you can imagine that rolling around.
I don’t think I fully recovered for about three days. Where I could feel 100% myself.
This last one I was in bed for about two days. I play football so I’m quite an active person, I’m not the type of person who wants to be sitting down.
Even on my day off, I will find something to do. It’s a bit annoying. Whenever I feel like I need to be up and about, the seizure stops me from doing that.
How did you feel when you were first diagnosed with epilepsy?
Mix emotions really. I heard about epilepsy but I didn’t know too much about it. You are talking about the 2000s and there wasn’t much about epilepsy out there.
The only thing about epilepsy was maybe like a leaflet at the hospital or something like that. Unless you knew someone who had it, there really wasn’t any info.
There is a lot more info out there now. With search engines, Google things like that. Back then I didn’t know what to think. The thing that came to my mind was would it stop me from playing football.
How did you get into playing football professionally?
I’ve always been a lover of the sport. I came through the non-league system and played at quite a high level in non-league and been at four or five trials in the space of about three years.
I was always told by head coaches that they would keep tabs on me and see how I progress. Nobody took a chance on me until I was 24, I signed my first pro contract.
I had a really good season at my last non-league club which was at Tonbridge in Kent. The team Brentford, at the time their coaches and manager watched me for about 10 games and saw enough to sign me on a professional contract.
How do you manage your epilepsy as well as playing football?
Obviously, I take medication. I feel I have to have an extra couple of hours sleep.
I didn’t used to sleep well and I think that brought on quite a few seizures because I got only five or six hours sleep which isn’t the best when your job is a sportsman and I have had to up that too seven or eight hours.
Eating right and just living a healthy lifestyle. I found that kept the seizures right down and obviously making sure I am taking my meds.
What kind of support did you receive from your clubs?
I was always very transparent with the physio, the medical team and always updated them with things like my medication and always let them know about my seizures and everything that they needed to know.
When I went to neurology appointments, they got the details of the appointments. I filled them in with everything just so nothing was missed out.
How important is it to raise awareness that if you have epilepsy it doesn’t have to be a barrier to achieving your ambitions.
At the time, when I first signed with Brentford, I had been diagnosed for about seven or eight years and I had never really spoke about it because I didn’t think there was much to speak about.
It was only until I had an interview with The Evening Standard and the interview was originally talking about how I had come from non-league to league football.
My job before I came to professional football was working with adults with learning disabilities.
When I started speaking about that, I was talking about one of the service users I was working with and spoke about that he had epilepsy and how I could resonate with him because I had epilepsy myself.
Then the whole interview changed to me talking about my epilepsy.
When it was printed the next day, I got loads of charities, foundations wanting to speak to me about my condition and I was blown away by it.
I didn’t realise how much of an impact I could have really. I was a bit blasé about it at the time.
What would you say to someone who has been recently diagnosed with epilepsy?
It can be stressful. I remember when I was first diagnosed, it was upsetting and you feel it can take over your life.
Try to be positive, try not to let it get you down. I do get people asking me how I deal with my epilepsy, I always say that over the years you learn your body and what triggers your seizures off.
When you get control of that, you should notice how your seizures will reduce.