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Ex-NBA Coach Spreads the Word About Rare Heart Disease Affecting Blacks

A defensive specialist, Chaney won an NBA title with the Celtics in 1969 and 1974. After he retired in 1979, he spent 22 years coaching, including 12 years as a head coach in the NBA for the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, and New York Knicks.

Don Chaney learned to play basketball while growing up in Baton Rouge, La. He became a skilled baller and played the game at the University of Houston. Then, he went on to have a successful career as a point guard — and later a coach — in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

      At 75, when Chaney was retired and ready to settle down and enjoy his newfound leisure when he had to acquire knowledge about an issue that has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with healthy living. 

     In 2019, Chaney was diagnosed with hereditary Transthyretin Amyloid Cardiomyopathy (ATTR-CM), a rare but life-threatening disease that can lead to heart failure. It disproportionately impacts African Americans.

     Now, Chaney looks at raising awareness about the disease as a new style of coaching. He said the rare disease is something that “the average Black family” should take “extremely seriously.”

      “It is a process. Every time I have an opportunity to bring it up and spread awareness about the disease, I try my best to do it,” Chaney told California Black Media (CBM) during a virtual interview. “The biggest thing is that the Black community has the highest rate of heart disease in the United States. Doctors are seldom aware of the fact that this particular disease exists. They don’t look for it. So, if you’re not looking for (ATTR-CM) you’re not going to get the correct diagnosis.”

       ATTR-CM is an underdiagnosed and potentially fatal disease, according to the American Heart Association, the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. 

     The disease is characterized by deposits of amyloid protein fibrils in the walls of the left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart. ATTR-CM, the amyloid protein is made of transthyretin, a protein found in the blood that transports important body fluids.  

      The amyloid protein deposits cause the heart walls to become stiff, resulting in the inability of the left ventricle to properly relax, fill with blood and adequately squeeze to pump blood out of the heart. 

       Dr. Kevin Williams, the chief medical officer for rare disease at the biotechnology company Pfizer, says his research shows that ATTR-CM’s symptoms are similar to those of more common causes of heart failure such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling in the lower legs.

     He also said that the symptoms are not commonly perceived to be linked to a heart condition —‌ like carpal tunnel syndrome (numbness, tingling, or pain in the fingers), bicep tendon rupture, gastrointestinal issues (constipation, diarrhea, and nausea), and lumbar spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the open spaces in the lower spine). 

     “All of these factors can lead to delays in diagnosis or misdiagnosis,” said Williams, who is a Black medical doctor. “In the African American community, it’s important to fully explore the underlying cause of these conditions with the help of a cardiologist.”

     After his collegiate days at the University of Houston expired, Chaney was selected the 12th pick in the first round of the 1968 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. The Houston Mavericks of the American Basketball Association also drafted him that year.

     A defensive specialist, Chaney won an NBA title with the Celtics in 1969 and 1974. After he retired in 1979, he spent 22 years coaching, including 12 years as a head coach in the NBA for the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, and New York Knicks.

     Since 2004, Chaney has relatively enjoyed retirement, but his heart condition was always a concern. Fatigue, palpitations, shortness of breath, and swollen ankles were something he thought was years of physically playing the game of basketball. He learned it was much deeper than the sports.

     “I was dealing with all these issues, but I hadn’t really made all the connections,” Chaney told CBM. “I just assumed all the symptoms were from my years of pounding on the floor in professional basketball. I thought it was normal. If I had known this, I could have started treatment earlier.”

     While he made numerous visits to the doctors to attend to his medical issues, Chaney said he started to “put the pieces” together after he began to share his family’s past with cardiologists.

     Chaney’s mother and grandmother passed away due to heart disease. Back when they were alive, he recalled them complaining about having the same symptoms – fatigue, shortness of breath, swollen ankles and knees – he was experiencing. 

    “The symptoms are similar,” Chaney said. ‘When you throw in carpal tunnel syndrome along with fatigue and palpitations… that pushes you into another category. So, I had some tests and found out the scary part that it was hereditary. We went on to try to manage it from that point on.”

    There are two types of ATTR-CM, wild-type, and hereditary. Wild-type is thought to be the most common form of ATTR-CM and is mostly associated with men over the age of 60. 

     Hereditary ATTR-CM is inherited from a relative and is due to genetics, affecting both men and women. In the U.S., the most common genetic mutation associated with hereditary ATTR-CM is found almost exclusively in people of African or Afro-Caribbean descent.

      It took more than 10 years to receive the right diagnosis despite knowing his family’s history of heart failure and experiencing heart-related symptoms, Chaney said.

     “It’s probably because African Americans don’t tell doctors everything that’s going on with them,” he said. “I’m guilty of it, too. They gave me some medicine but that didn’t really help much until they did further testing. It went beyond that. I actually had heart disease. You just have to tell your doctors everything.”

      Awareness of ATTR-CM among both patients and some doctors remains low, which in Chaney’s case and many others, could lead to delayed or misdiagnosis. But if symptoms seem unrelated it is best to visit a primary care doctor or an experienced cardiologist to discuss ATTR-CM, Chaney said.  

     In the United States, hereditary ATTR-CM occurs in African Americans (prevalent in approximately 1 in 25) and in older patients who may be misdiagnosed with high blood pressure-related heart disease.

     Chaney said he is “stressed to a degree” because he also has been spending time to get his family into testing mode since the disease is hereditary. His sister’s and daughter’s tests came back negative. He’s still waiting on his sons to go through the process.

     “They may not have it. But the disease is still present (in the family) and you could pass it down to your children,” Chaney said he has told members of his family. “I’m still going to press the issues to get them tested.”

While managing his ATTR-CM symptoms, Chaney spends time taking his grandchildren to NBA games in the Houston area. He also restores antique automobiles, participates in horseback riding, and is constantly testing his fishing skills. 

     His wife, Jackie Chaney, is now his primary caregiver and she is the one that calls the shots, he said.   

     “I do a lot of things within reason,” Chaney said. “I used to jump out of airplanes. But I don’t do that anymore. My wife monitors my condition, makes sure I see the doctor, and sees to it that I take my medication. I get a lot of help from a lot of people around here. I’m really enjoying my life.”

 

 

 

Community

West Oakland Food Giveaway Event a Success Through ‘Comm-Unity’

Common Unity is more than a slogan. It is the actual showing of what it means to be as one with the promise and actual example of itself. As one volunteer known as” Mr. Fab” said, “Community is nothing but common unity.”

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Photo Courtesy of Calle Macarone from Unsplash

First and foremost, I thank the Most High for making the June 5 “A Day of Giving,” a food and necessity giveaway a success. It was quite amazing to see all the sectors of our Oakland communities come together to make this event a fruitful and worthwhile effort at Ralph Bunche School and de Fremery Park in West Oakland from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

It was a volunteer-inspired effort that I describe as ‘Comm-Unity,’ which simply means common unity because it matters not what part of town you’re from. Whether a volunteer identified as a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Catholic and or as a non-believer, it only mattered that they all had one reason and one common goal, which was to just serve others in need.

What was remarkable was the participation of those who were formerly incarcerated. Some members of this segment of the community showed up with their families and children and showed out by volunteering along with businesspersons and clergymen to help feed needy families.

The lines of vehicles stretched for more than one-and-a-half miles. More than 900 vehicles that had presented the Post newspaper coupon or had registered at the website address were presented with boxes of food and supplies. More than 200 volunteers loaded each vehicle after giving each driver a choice of a selection of the 52 different food items and household cleaning supplies on various pallets. Deliveries were also made to some elderly residents who did not have vehicles. The remaining food and supplies were distributed to non-profits that serve the needy.

A special shout out to the Oakland Post Newspaper Group, Trybe, Deeply Rooted, Ronald Muhammad, Ear Hustle, John Ya Ya Johnson, Missy Percy, Jamil Wilson, Attorney Anne Wells, ROC’S Richard Corral, Lee Oliveres, Jesus P. Peguero, Ricky “Styles” Ricardo, Paul Redd, Savior Charles, OG riders Arnold Torres, Gabe Zuniga, Rudy Yanez, Rolando Coffman; Janelle Marie Charles of Epsilon Phi Zeta, Mrs. Marsha Woodfork of Zeta Amicae of the Epsilon Phi Zeta, the Black Firefighters Association, Felicia Bryant, Mr. Fab’s Dope Era Clothing Store, Cesar Cruz’s Homie’s Empowerment, The Oakland Gumbo Cultural Group, Amina Nicole, Queen Johnson, Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, Walter Culp and the entire staff of West Side Missionary Baptist Church, who helped with organizing, rental/warehouse space,  equipment rentals, insurance expenses, obtaining  permits, food donations, refrigeration vans and donation of funds, and purchases such as walkie-talkies, pallet jacks, forklifts, portable toilets, laborers, social media posts and recruitment of volunteers.

Several elected Officials, including the District 3 Councilmember Carroll Fife, clergymen, community leaders, community investors and local entertainers lent their support by volunteering to serve our community families in need.

We will continue to work with the Oakland Post Newspaper Group, to make June 5 “A Day of Giving” event a model for future giveaways of necessities that included boxes of oatmeal, fruits and vegetables including corn, green beans, pinto beans, chili beans, peas, pears, mixed peas & carrots, potato chips, gold fish and animal crackers, zoo crackers, Cheez-Its, cups of mixed fruits, granola bars, mac and cheese, Welch’s fruit snacks, canned pears, canned peaches, gallons of olive oil, whole chickens, varieties of luncheon meats (roast beef, turkey, sliced cheese), mixed nuts, Belvita breakfast cookies, Ritz crackers, canned chicken, spaghetti, whole wheat and white pasta, dry pinto beans, cases of bottled water, canned tuna, impossible burgers, masks, gallons of bleach, laundry detergent, surface cleaners, large rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, toothbrushes, baby wipes, dishwashing liquid, body wash, dental floss and boxes of peanut butter.

I was moved by the tears and shouts of joy from some families and children when they were showered with boxes of food and cleaning supplies that literally loaded down their vehicles. One mother said she was accustomed to receiving one bag or a box of food that could last for a day or a week, but she never dreamed that she would be given enough food and cleaning supplies to last for months.

I pray that this approach of providing a sustainable amount of food that was inspired by the leadership of Mrs. Egypt Ina Marie King will shine as the beacon of hope, pride and promise before our God Almighty. Nothing is greater than the powers of God and when our hearts are focused on freely serving others, we then are giving praises to God.

I thank Rev. Ken Chambers and the Interfaith Council of Alameda County (ICAC) for coordinating a pop-up, drop-in clinic in a tent to provide COVID-19 vaccination shots during our food give-away.

Common Unity is more than a slogan. It is the actual showing of what it means to be as one with the promise and actual example of itself. As one volunteer known as” Mr. Fab” said, “Community is nothing but common unity.”

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Business

Go Fund Geoffrey’s

Whether it was Paul Mooney, Faye Carroll, Sugar Pie or Jay-Z performing or whether it was Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Mayor Elihu Harris, or Kamala Harris along with many of the Bay area’s elected officials they too have come to bask in the limelight of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle.

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Geoffrey's Inner Circle

For more than 30 years Geoffrey Pete ‘s business, Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, has been a cultural hub because of its full-service restaurant, live entertainment, nightclub parties, jazz music and community special occasion events. Faith-based organizations have also rented the spacious facilities for services and concerts. Their full-service restaurant, bar and live entertainment business along with their tenants and multilevel event rental spaces have been severely interrupted and devastated by the COVID 19 lockdowns and restrictions.

Whether it was Paul Mooney, Faye Carroll, Sugar Pie or Jay-Z performing or whether it was Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Mayor Elihu Harris, or Kamala Harris along with many of the Bay area’s elected officials they too have come to bask in the limelight of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle. Now those lights are dimmed due to the economic conditions that have descended on high intensity people-contact businesses.

Thanks to a group of customers and supporters a Go Fund Me page has been opened for the public to contribute to support Geoffrey’s Inner Circle https://gofund.me/b2541419.

The Post newspaper has notified the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce that regular articles concerning the needs of Geoffrey’s and other Black-owned Businesses will be published weekly.

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