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updated: 8/2/2014 1:33 PM

Delle Donne returns, but her battle continues

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  • After missing 17 games this season to receive treatment for Lyme disease, Chicago Sky forward Elena Delle Donne has returned to WNBA action. She played 10 minutes Thursday night.

      After missing 17 games this season to receive treatment for Lyme disease, Chicago Sky forward Elena Delle Donne has returned to WNBA action. She played 10 minutes Thursday night.
    Associated Press/June 25 file

 
 

The plastic jug Sky forward Elena Delle Donne kept sipping from during a win Thursday night looked like it contained orange Gatorade.

Turns out it was Pedialyte, the substance parents turn to when they fear dehydration in their babies or toddlers.

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"I was like a little kid out there," Delle Donne said with a laugh.

It was good to see Delle Donne laugh, and smile, and joke around. It's been awhile. What this 24-year-old woman has been through the last two months is heartbreaking.

Barely a week removed from 5-hour treatments each Monday through Friday in a doctor's office, the Pedialyte was one of many steps employed by her medical team.

"It helps with the shakes," Delle Donne said. "And it gives me extra electrolytes."

Delle Donne, who has missed 17 Sky games, was willing to do whatever it took to get back on the court. She has been receiving treatment for what she calls a flare-up of Lyme disease, a condition she has battled since graduating high school, when she was bitten by an infected tick.

She spent most of June and July at home in Delaware with her family and medical team, which worked furiously to come up with a combination of medications that would quell her severe fatigue and relentless flu-like symptoms. Her visits with the doctor went on for weeks and involved various IV drips.

Last week, she returned to Chicago to work her way back onto the court. Against New York, her first game since June 25, she scored 10 points in 10 heavily monitored minutes.

She was noticeably winded but showed signs of her old self, knocking down a 3-pointer and finishing a tough shot in the paint.

"I'm still not 100 percent," Delle Donne said. "If I waited to be 100 percent, I'd miss the rest of the season.

"I'm just going to go day-by-day and do the best I can."

When it comes to her health, Delle Donne will operate day-by-day for the rest of her life. There is no cure for Lyme disease and her flare-ups can occur at any time.

"Some days I wake up and I feel pretty good," said Delle Donne, who strung together a lot of good days last season as the rookie of the year. "Some days, I feel pretty cruddy."

There are times she barely has the energy to lift her head off a pillow, or change clothes. Even as she began to recover, she would suffer setbacks.

"I'd try to work out and lift weights and I'd end up having to sit down in a chair while I lifted, because I just couldn't stand long enough. I was too tired," Delle Donne said. "It was very frustrating.

"I went through a roller coaster of emotions while I was at home. I was frustrated, and angry that this was happening again. I had two relapses in college (at the University of Delaware) and I was hoping I wouldn't have to deal with this again. It made me angry that it came back. I was also sad that I couldn't be with my teammates."

As much as Delle Donne has struggled, she says she's in better shape than many others.

"This is a lifetime fight for everyone (with Lyme)," she said. "I'm doing pretty well to be able to play professional basketball with this. A lot of people with Lyme can't even go about their daily lives."

Lyme disease is a controversial condition that many doctors won't acknowledge as chronic. In some states, those who do and have treated it have been reprimanded by their medical boards.

Because some in the medical community believe Lyme can be over diagnosed for a variety of ailments, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, it can be difficult for patients to find doctors or insurance.

"It's absurd," Delle Donne said of the controversy. "Hopefully at some point, (the entire medical community) will acknowledge it. There are so many sick people out there who are being told that they're fine, and they're not.

"The doctors are going to have to realize that it's real. We're not all faking this thing."

Delle Donne, who sees a Lyme specialist from Lancaster, Pa., says the disease hurts her quality of life.

It could also cost her millions of dollars. Most players of Delle Donne's caliber, who cap out at about $100,000 in the WNBA, can make seven figures overseas for a season that runs about six months.

Delle Donne stayed in Chicago last winter instead of playing overseas, mostly because she feared that if symptoms returned she could not get quick access to her doctors and her specific cocktail of medications.

After playing well last season and feeling good all winter, she wondered if playing overseas would be possible.

"But after this, I don't know if I'll ever be able to go overseas," she said.

Delle Donne acknowledges her WNBA career might not ever be what she envisioned. She could go five years without a problem, or it could return every season.

"I try not to think about that. I try to stay positive," said Delle Donne, who wants to team up with the Lyme Research Alliance to form a foundation in her name. "I also know that no doctor can promise me anything.

"It's going to be a part of my career and my life after basketball. It's frustrating to know that there is no end to this, but I'm going to keep moving forward. My goal is to finish out this season, play in every game we have left and to keep on playing. I'll take it day-by-day and try to enjoy every minute that I'm on the court."

• Patricia Babcock McGraw has covered the Sky since its inaugural season in 2006. She is also a sideline reporter for Sky TV broadcasts. Follow her on Twitter@babcockmcgraw.

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