Rolle continues battle with epilepsy

BALTIMORE -- In the Swahili language, Samari Rolle's first name is translated as strength. As the Baltimore Ravens cornerback experienced one of the most trying years of his life, he needed every bit of personal fortitude he could muster as he was diagnosed with epilepsy and endured a handful of seizures last season.

Beyond the uncertainty of whether he would ever play football again as he missed six games, Rolle's growing concern centered on the periodic negative effect the neurological disorder was having on his life.

There was a potentially dangerous episode where Rolle bit his tongue while driving his car to the Ravens' training complex. Another seizure caused injuries after he fell down the stairs at his house.

"At first, all I was worried about was whether I was going to be able to play, but it kept happening even after taking the medicine, and that was when I was like, 'Man, I don't even want to play anymore," said Rolle, who will be recognized tonight as the Ravens' recipient of the Ed Block Courage award voted on by his teammates. "But when you sit in a room with guys like Chris McAlister and Ed Reed and you play for a guy like Rex Ryan, you have a special bond.

"My family doesn't have a problem with me playing football, and the doctors don't. I'm eager to just live a normal life and play football without anybody being like, 'Is your epilepsy bothering you? Are you okay?' That's what I'm excited about."

Despite the seizures, including one prior to a nationally-televised Monday night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Rolle returned to play after missing six games. Although the former Pro Bowl selection ended his season on injured reserve due to a shoulder injury that required surgery to repair a torn labrum, it was a tremendous comeback that inspired his teammates.

Rolle will be joined tonight at Martin's West by Ravens director of player development O.J. Brigance, who has been battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a fatal illness commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Brigance will receive the Johnny Unitas Tops in Courage award.

Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett, who recovered from a fractured spine to regain the ability to walk, is another prominent honoree.

"Kevin Everett and O.J. Brigance are my heroes," Rolle said. "They're the real winners because of what they've gone through. I was sick, but their thing is totally life-altering. I have so much respect for them."

Epilepsy causes proneness to seizures, which are triggered by an electrical disturbance in the brain. Common symptoms include muscle spasms, convulsions, loss of consciousness or memory loss.

Nearly three million people in the United State have epilepsy, including Pro Bowl offensive guard Alan Faneca.

In Rolle's case, he was affected by seizures, headaches and temporary memory loss. It was serious enough that the 10-year veteran wondered if his career was over.

During an interview Sunday night, Rolle said that he hasn't had a seizure since December.

He has been given a clean bill of health for next season.

"This is the best I've felt in a long time," said Rolle, who's nearly recovered from his shoulder injury. "I have been on a good streak. During the season, I never went six weeks without having a seizure.

"When I was getting them, it was making it hard for my body to play the game. I appreciate the Ravens being fair to me."

Rolle has has never had a seizure on the field, but that remains a fearful possibility.

Another difficult aspect of the ordeal was Rolle's decision to disclose what was initially treated as a private matter.

One reason why Rolle decided to reveal that he had epilepsy was to quell inaccurate rumors on the Internet about what was ailing him.

"I thought I had to come out at some point and say what it was because my wife was reading all types of stuff they were saying that I had," said Rolle, whose foundation intends to raise awareness about epilepsy. "That wasn't cool. I thought I might as well confront it and be a spokesman for it."

Even though his nervous system appears to be under control now through the aid of proper medication that includes a dosage of over 40 pills per week, Rolle isn't allowed to drive a car.

"That still sucks," he said.

Seated next to his wife, Danisha, Rolle said he felt blessed to have a pretty chauffer to help him get around.

"We do have a lot of cars, but she drives them all now," Rolle said.

Rolle, 31, remains under contract for the next three years with annual base salaries of $3.9 million in 2008, $4.1 million in 2008 and $4.5 million in 2010.

However, the Ravens have modified his deal to include playing-time conditions attached to his illness.

"They were fair to me," Rolle said. "I understand where they're coming from. If I play, everything will be the same as originally scheduled."

Even with that financial issue addressed, Rolle expects the Ravens to acquire a young cornerback.

Rolle emphasized that there hasn't been any change to his starting status.

"It's a business, and I think they have to bring in someone else," Rolle said. "When you look at the times when Chris and I didn't play last year, it was ugly out there. I don't think it was the coaches' fault. It wasn't Dennis Thurman or Mark Carrier's fault.

"It was just that those guys are young. I'm sure Ozzie Newsome will bring in somebody good that will help this team."

Rolle admittedly had a substandard season in 2006, but played well when he was healthy last season, including a game against the New England Patriots.

Heading into his 11th NFL season, Rolle said he's energized by new coach John Harbaugh, who replaced Brian Billick following a 5-11 season and a last-place finish in the AFC North.

"I'm very excited because he brought energy and passion to the building," Rolle said. "It's a different, upbeat feel. He talks to you and listens to you what you have to say. He never talks down to you. I like him."

NOTES: Harbaugh and other team officials are scheduled to attend Troy State cornerback Leodis McKelvin's workout today, according to Troy athletic department officials. McKelvin, who met with the Ravens at the NFL scouting combine, has been linked to Baltimore in several mock drafts.

"I've gotten a lot of phone calls from Baltimore," Troy strength and conditioning coach Richard Shaughnessy said. "Baltimore asked him a lot of questions at the combine and showed him some film, and Leodis thinks they'ven shown a lot of interest in him. He's a quality kid and he's very talented." ...

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tab Perry is scheduled to visit the Green Bay Packers today. The Ravens have demonstrated some interest in Perry, but haven't brought him in for a visit.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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