Elena Delle Donne Pens Letter About Her Health After WNBA Denies Opt-Out

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJuly 15, 2020

Washington Mystics' Elena Delle Donne heads up court against the Seattle Storm in the first half of Game 1 of the WNBA basketball finals Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

After her request to opt out of the 2020 WNBA season for medical reasons was denied, Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne has opened up about her longstanding health issues.

In an open letter on the Players' Tribune, Delle Donne wrote that she has to take 64 pills a day to combat Lyme disease:

"That's 25 before breakfast, another 20 after breakfast, another 10 before dinner, and another 9 before bed.

"I take 64 pills a day, and I feel like it's slowly killing me. Or if it's not killing me, directly, then I at least know one thing for sure: It's really bad for me. Longterm, taking that much medicine on that regular of a regimen is just straight-up bad for you. It's literally an elaborate trick that you play on yourself — a lie that you tell your body so it keeps thinking everything is fine."

In a statement released to ESPN's John Barr and Sarah Spain, Delle Donne said a panel of independent physicians denied the six-time All-Star's request to sit out this season:

"The independent panel of doctors the league appointed to review high-risk cases have advised that I'm not high risk, and should be permitted to play in the bubble.

"I love my team, and we had an unbelievable season last year, and I want to play! But the question is whether or not the WNBA bubble is safe for me. My personal physician who has treated me for Lyme disease for years advised me that I'm at high risk for contracting and having complications from COVID-19.

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"I'm thinking things over, talking to my doctor and my wife, and look forward to sharing what I ultimately plan to do very soon."

Delle Donne told Patricia Babcock McGraw of the Daily Herald in 2014 that she was diagnosed with Lyme disease six years earlier.

Barr and Spain noted that Lyme disease isn't among the list of underlying conditions from the Centers for Disease Control that could make someone a higher risk for severe illness from the coronavirus.

Delle Donne wrote that that the number of pills she takes each day "is the only way to keep my condition under any sort of control" and that she's had serious issues in the past from illnesses like a common cold:

"I've been told time and time again over the years that my condition makes me immunocompromised — that part of what Lyme does is it debilitates my immune system. I've had a common cold that sent my immune system spiraling into a serious relapse. I've relapsed off of a simple flu shot. There's just been so many instances where I've contracted something that shouldn't have been that big of a deal, but it blew my immune system out and turned into something scary."

She also noted that the doctor who treats her disease gave the WNBA's independent panel a full report about the health risks:

"The doctor who treats my Lyme disease wrote up a full report, detailing my medical history and confirming my high-risk status. The Mystics team doctor (who is awesome, but who’s never treated my Lyme disease) wrote a report essentially deferring to my Lyme disease doctor, and agreeing about my high risk profile. I filed both reports to the league, as required, along with a signed form waiving my right to an appeal.

"A few days later, the league’s panel of doctors—without ever once speaking to me or to either of my doctors—informed me that they were denying my request for a health exemption.

"I’m now left with two choices: I can either risk my life…..or forfeit my paycheck.

"Honestly? That hurts.

"It hurts a lot. And maybe being hurt just makes me naive. And I know that, as athletes, we’re not really supposed to talk about our feelings. But feelings are pretty much all I have left right now. I don’t have NBA player money. I don’t have the desire to go to war with the league on this. And I can’t appeal."

The two-time WNBA MVP noted her letter wasn't intended to announce a decision about her plans, as she's "still thinking very carefully and weighing my options."

All 12 WNBA teams are currently at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where the 22-game regular season and full postseason will be held.

The 2020 regular season is scheduled to begin July 25. The reigning WNBA champion Mystics will play the Indiana Fever on opening day at 5 p.m. ET.