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Delle Donne pens open letter about health exemption being denied

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A couple days ago, a panel of WNBA doctors denied Washington’s Elena Delle Donne a medical waiver. Delle Donne was seeking approval to not play the upcoming season due to COVID-19 and being an individual who has been living and playing with Lyme disease for the past 12 years. 

In the letter, Delle Donne broke down how she takes a large amount of pills every day — 64 exactly — and the disappointment she has with the league doctors who did not speak with her or her personal doctor in regards to her current health situation. She also expressed how she has often relapsed when she had a common cold or getting a flu shot and due to having a weaken immune system, those minor situations turned into “something scary.”

Delle Donne did state in her letter she would not have her final decision on if she would or would not play this year stating, “I’m still thinking very carefully and weighing my options,” but she did express the pain she has with her medical waiver request being denied.

Here’s part of her letter to Players Tribune

“That’s just something I deal with. And so when I read that immunocompromised people are at a higher risk with COVID, I took every possible precaution. (Which, by the way, I realize is a huge privilege I have that most people don’t.) I treated COVID like any high-risk person should: as a matter of life and death.

So when the WNBA started the process of organizing the bubble, I paid careful attention to what measures they were putting in place to make it safe. I know how much work went into this, and I know so many people at the league put in crazy hours to protect the players and make it as safe as possible. But the fact of the matter is, I was told that when it came down to it, it would be impossible to keep COVID-19 out of the bubble entirely. And then Florida cases started rising. And even if the bubble is the safest place in Florida….. if I had to go to a hospital, and the hospital was overwhelmed, then what?

I still wanted to play, but I was scared. I talked to my personal physician about what the league planned to do, and he felt it was still too risky.

When the league began reviewing players’ cases to see who should be granted a health exemption from the bubble (meaning the league excuses you from playing, but you don’t have to give up your salary), I didn’t even think it was a question whether I would be exempt or not. I didn’t need a panel of league doctors to tell me that my immune system was high-risk — I’ve played my entire career with an immune system that’s high-risk!!!

I LIVE with an immune system that’s high-risk.

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.

So really all I’m left with is how much this hurts. How much it hurts that the W — a place that’s been my one big dream in life for as long as I can remember, and that I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears to for seven going on eight seasons — has basically told me that I’m wrong about what’s happening in my own body. What I hear in their decision is that I’m a fool for believing my doctor. That I’m faking a disability. That I’m trying to “get out” of work and still collect a paycheck.”

Rene' Kennedy
Rene' Kennedyhttps://theballout.com
Managing Editor of The Ball Out.

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