BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – Hunter Kelly, whose battle with a fatal nervous system disease inspired his Hall of Fame father Jim Kelly’s charitable works, died Friday. He was 8.

Hunter died at Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, Hunter’s Hope Foundation spokesman John Dudek said. Hunter had been having trouble breathing, possibly the result of the humidity and high temperatures that have hovered in the 90s this week.

“He has been struggling for a while,” Dudek said. Hunter’s doctor, Patricia Duffner, said he died of respiratory failure.

Hunter’s Hope Foundation, named after Jim Kelly’s son, was established in 1997 by the Hall of Fame quarterback and his wife, Jill. It has raised more than $6 million and awarded more than $3.8 million to leukodystrophy and other neurological disease-related research.

Born in 1997, Hunter Kelly was given no more than three years to live after being diagnosed with Krabbe disease, an inherited degenerative disorder of the central and peripheral nervous systems. The disease hinders development of the myelin sheath, a fatty covering that protects the brain’s nerve fibers.

The disease has no known cure.

The foundation released a statement saying the Kelly family is grateful for the support people have shown.

“It is the family’s hope that all who mourn for their son, Hunter, would join them in thanking the Lord for his precious life,” the statement read.

Jim Kelly, who led the Bills to an unprecedented four straight AFC titles in the early 1990s, had credited his son for serving as his inspiration after he retired from football following the 1996 season.

“He’ll never be able to do what daddy did,” Kelly said last year. “But he’s going to do greater things. He’s going to make a difference in kids’ lives. He already has.”

He also paid tribute to Hunter in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2002.

“It has been written throughout my career that toughness is my trademark,” Kelly said. “Well, the toughest person I’ve ever met in my life is my hero, my soldier, my son, Hunter. I love you, buddy.”

Kelly and his son shared a birthday – Valentine’s Day.

Duffner credited the Kelly family for Hunter living well beyond the initial prognosis and for its help in Krabbe research.

“He was such a brave little boy. … He was a tough kid, like his dad,” Duffner said. “It’s really quite remarkable how one family has changed the course of a disease.”

She noted that New York will begin screening newborns for the disease, something which the foundation has long favored.

The Kellys will hold a public memorial service Tuesday in Hamburg, N.Y., and ask that donations be made to the Hunter’s Hope Foundation.

Associated Press Writer Carolyn Thompson contributed to this story.

AP-ES-08-05-05 1518EDT

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