Laker With Crohn's Disease Holds Court With Patients

Ten-year-old David Lasky hands Larry Nance Jr. a school project that featured the Lakers forward as his hero. Both Nance and Lasky have Crohn's disease.

Larry Nance Jr. sat quietly with an IV hooked on one arm and a blood pressure monitor on the other.

The Lakers forward has Crohn's disease, and usually there's not much to do for the couple of hours it takes to receive his bimonthly infusion of the medication Remicade, which helps manage the intestinal disorder.

But this mid-August afternoon at the Cedars-Sinai Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinic was different. During his infusion, Nance met one-on-one with more than two dozen patients with Crohn's or other inflammatory diseases, and their families. They talked, listened and shared stories about their conditions.

Among them was David Lasky, a patient of the Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program who learned that he had Crohn's disease about 18 months ago. The 10-year-old brought the NBA player something to read — a school project he had written about his hero, Larry Nance Jr.

"I was nervous and excited to meet him," Lasky said. "He inspires me so much about how he handles Crohn's disease like it's nothing. … It's incredible how he plays basketball. It was an honor and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet him."

Laker Had Role Model of His Own

Nance knows exactly how the youngster feels and how important it is for people with Crohn's disease to stay positive and to keep working on their health. When Nance was a kid, he looked up to David Garrard, an NFL quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars who also lived with the chronic ailment, which often causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and upset stomach.

"He was my idol for more than what he did on the field," said Nance, who was diagnosed with the disease when he was 16. "He showed me that being a professional athlete with Crohn's disease was possible."

"It would have meant the world to meet him," he added. "I hope to give people a chance to meet me and normalize a disease that makes you feel anything but normal."

Nance, who is entering his second season with the Lakers, saw noticeable changes in his health after starting the infusions seven years ago. Not only did he gain energy, but he also shot up in height by seven inches.

Inspiration and Advice

Gil Melmed, MD, director of the Clinical Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program, said Nance serves as a valuable source of encouragement for other patients.

"It is not all that common for patients to be so open about having IBD," Melmed said. "Having someone like Larry, who has achieved such prominence in his career and in his physical abilities, talk openly about having Crohn's disease is really inspiring to others who may feel alone, or may feel frustrated by the impact of IBD on their quality of life."

"He is a big inspiration for the kids, so meeting him shows them what the potential is for patients with their disease — first-round pick of the Lakers, playing in NBA, 6-foot-9," said Shervin Rabizadeh, MD, director of the Pediatric Inflammatory Disease Program. "The kids were very excited to meet him; they look up to him. Many are converted Lakers fans because of Nance."

After his infusion, Nance joined the kids on the court for a pickup game of basketball.

"Try to make Crohn's or your disease work around your schedule," said Nance, who has to carefully monitor his diet and avoids nuts, seeds, popcorn and berries. "Whatever you want to do, do it. Your disease shouldn't hold you back."

When Lasky was first diagnosed with Crohn's, he was afraid he would not be able to fulfill his dream of playing in the NBA. But now, he is hanging on to his career goals.

"I want to be just like him," Lasky said of Nance. "A professional basketball player for the Lakers."