WNBA Star Elena Delle Donne Forced to Choose Between Health and Job

Brette Sember
Elena Delle Donne in her red Mystics jersey in a kitchen
Elena Delle Donne in her red Mystics jersey in a kitchen

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.

Related:Download The Mighty app to connect in real time with people who can relate to what you're going through.

I’m now left with two choices: I can either risk my life … or forfeit my paycheck. — Elena Delle Donne

Related:The Ability to Advocate Shouldn't Determine Who Gets Good Healthcare

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.

Related:Yes, I Am 'Still' Sick

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:

How to take action: Get more information about chronic Lyme disease from the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society.

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