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Elena Delle Donne: WNBA doctors rejected my medical opt-out request

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Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne, who led her team to its first championship in 2019 with three herniated discs in her back and suffers from chronic Lyme disease, says doctors denied her application to opt-out.

Las Vegas Aces v Washington Mystics - Game Two
Elena Delle Donne #11 of the Washington Mystics receives the WNBA MVP trophy during Game Two of the WNBA Semi Finals on September 19, 2019 at the St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. 
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Elena Delle Donne is weighing her options after issuing a statement that a panel of doctors appointed by the WNBA and the players’ union to review medical exemptions denied her request to opt-out of the 2020 season for fear of contracting the coronavirus.

“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,” said the Washington Mystics forward, who led her team to a championship victory last year, in a statement to ESPN. She is the only WNBA player in league history to be named MVP for two teams.

As the Washington Post reported, players can opt-out for any reason, but only those deemed high risk by the panel of doctors will still receive full pay; Players who do not get medical clearance can still choose not to play, but they will forfeit their salary. Delle Donne will not be paid a dime if she opts-out now.

Her request centers on her chronic Lyme disease, which she’s battled since 2008. She’s also recovering from back surgery in January for the three herniated discs in her back that plagued her through the conclusion of the 2019 season.

Just last week, Delle Donne shared her feeling that “health and safety” are a priority.

“The independent panel of doctors the league appointed to review high-risk cases have advised that I’m not high risk,” Delle Donne told ESPN, “and should be permitted to play in the bubble.” Although her teammates are already in Bradenton, Fla., Delle Donne has remained at home awaiting the results of her request.

“I love my team, and we had an unbelievable season last year, and I want to play!” she added in the statement. “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.”

Although Lyme disease can be a debilitating medical problem and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers it the most common disease of its kind, impacting more than 300,000 people a year, it is not included on the CDC’s list of underlying conditions for increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

According to a draft of the WNBA’s health and safety protocol obtained by ESPN, those CDC guidelines are what the panel of doctors considers when evaluating high-risk cases, such as Jessica Breland of the Phoenix Mercury. As Swish Appeal reported, Breland is a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor; The panel approved her request.

ESPN reported a spokesperson for the WNBA declined to comment. Erin Kane, Delle Donne’s agent, said her client’s “initial reaction was disbelief.”

“I know doctors don’t always agree with each other and that there are different opinions on certain things within the medical community, and now I have a player who is in an incredibly difficult situation because of the way things lined up,” Kane told ESPN. “It’s still possible she’ll opt out.

“Like a lot of people, she’s making a choice between what’s best for her from a health standpoint and what’s best for her from a financial standpoint for her and her family.”