WNBA Star Elena Delle Donne Forced to Choose Between Health and Job
What happened: Basketball star Elena Delle Donne has had chronic Lyme disease for 12 years and takes 64 pills a day to control the condition, which impacts her immune system. In an open letter published in The Players’ Tribune, Delle Donne revealed she has quietly struggled for years to manage her health and maintain her WNBA basketball career, continuing to play through her illness.
When the coronavirus first made news, Delle Donne learned that a compromised immune system places her at higher risk and took the precautions necessary to protect herself. As the WNBA recently began making plans to return to play by organizing bubbles of players, her doctors said participation would endanger her health and advised her not to play.
Delle Donne filed papers seeking a health exemption, which would allow her to be excused from play while still earning her salary. The WNBA denied her request. She hasn’t decided what she will do, but the situation prompted her to write an open letter explaining how challenging Lyme disease is and explaining the conundrum she’s facing.
I’m now left with two choices: I can either risk my life … or forfeit my paycheck. — Elena Delle Donne
The league I've given my blood, sweat and tears to has basically told me that my doctors are wrong and I'm wrong for believing them. So I wrote this. https://t.co/R9ABh9v73n
— Elena Delle Donne (@De11eDonne) July 15, 2020
The Frontlines: Lyme disease is an infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which is transmitted by a tick bite. Most cases can be treated with antibiotics. Chronic Lyme disease (also called post-treatment Lyme disease) is a term used to described Lyme patients who are treated but experience a lasting autoimmune response to the bacteria and have ongoing symptoms after treatment. The term is also used to describe people who have the symptoms of Lyme disease but no definitive evidence that they were infected. Because of this, it can be a controversial diagnosis.
- 30,000 Lyme disease cases are reported each year to the CDC, but many more people are likely infected
- It’s estimated that there may be 9 million cases of chronic Lyme disease in the United States
- Lyme disease research receives just 2% of the funding that West Nile virus does and 0.2% of the funding HIV/AIDS receives even though more people contract Lyme than these two diseases combined
A Mighty Voice: Our community member Lymefighter talked about how difficult the disease is. “I have Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome. This means that my body has been rendered disabled due to Lyme Disease infection and the effects of the medications it took to put the infection into remission. Every day I am reminded of what I have lost and what I have gained from being ill and disabled.” You can submit your first-person story, too.
From Our Community:
Other things to know: Chronic Lyme disease is not well understood and often stigmatized in medical communities. It can take a huge toll on those who live with it:
- 5 Things I Learned About Lyme Disease After My Symptoms Didn’t Go Away
- What I Wish I Could Tell Myself When I Was Diagnosed With Lyme Disease in High School
- What Employers Need to Do to Better Accommodate People With Invisible Illness
How to take action: Get more information about chronic Lyme disease from the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society.
Header image via Elena Delle Donne/Instagram