Sasha McHale, Daughter of Rocket’s Coach, Dies from Lupus Complications

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Alexandra (“Sasha”) McHale, daughter of Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale has died at the age of 23. It is reported that she died of complications from the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosis (“lupus” or SLE for short).

Sasha had been battling the disease for a number of years, but it did not stop her from the sport she and her father both loved. Like her father, she played forward on her high school and college football teams. She even wore the number 32, the same one her father wore during his Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics.

Her disease apparently became more severe in 2011, while studying abroad in Australia. It was reported that the disease affected her skin and joints, her lungs and her nervous system. Besides the standard medical treatment of corticosteroids and cytotoxic drugs, Sasha also altered her diet to remove foods that could increase inflammation.

Her father took a leave of absence from the Rockets on November 10th to be with his daughter during her hospitalization. She died on Saturday. A statement released by the Houston Rockets stated:

Kevin and Lynn are loving and dedicated parents who will need our continued support throughout this very difficult time,” she wrote. “Our entire organization is mourning the McHale family’s loss and we ask that you keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

What is lupus?

SLE is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself because the immune system fails to recognize the difference between the body’s own cells and tissues and”foreign” substances such as the bacteria and viruses that our immune systems normally protect us against.

Anyone can get Lupus, but it is most common among girls and women.  More than 90% of people with lupus are female.

In the US,  lupus is more likely to occur among people who are of African-American, Hispanic-Latino, and Native American descent.  According to the Lupus Foundation of America, between 1.5 and 2 million Americans have some form of lupus, including some 5-10 thousand children.

What are the symptoms?

Lupus is often difficult to diagnose. It’s often mistaken for other diseases and has been called the “great imitator.” The signs of lupus differ from person to person. Some people have just a few signs; others have more.

Common signs of lupus are:

  • Red rash or color change on the face, often in the shape of a butterfly across the nose and cheeks
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Unexplained fever
  • Chest pain with deep breathing
  • Swollen glands
  • Extreme fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Unusual hair loss (mainly on the scalp)
  • Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Low blood count
  • Depression, trouble thinking, and/or memory problems.

What are the complications of lupus?

Some people with SLE have abnormal deposits in the kidney cells. This leads to a condition called lupus nephritis. Patients with this condition may eventually develop kidney failure and need dialysis or a kidney transplant.

SLE causes damage to many different parts of the body, including:

For more information, go to the Resounding Health Casebook on Lupus.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

2 Comments

  1. sheila morey

    December 3, 2012 at 12:07 am

    Much sympathies,heartstruck rythm and blues for the loss of your child. Much joy intended for the following seasons and the coming of Spring, which sucks, cause that’s when the game starts again. Look for joy, you’ll find what you look for. Sincerely, sheila (Hokans) Morey

  2. Anne Wells

    December 12, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    It is so unfortunate that Coach McHale lost a really special person in his life, and my sympathies go out to the McHale family in hope that they find comfort. As a bit of coincidence, I was at the Rockets game vs Utah Jazz where the team premiered their new jersey accents pieces: a green stripe just above the shoulder in honor of Sasha and others who suffer from Lupus. As an added measure, the Jazz donned the Rockets team warm-up jersey during the opening shoot around and throughout the game showing respect to Coach McHale, which I found really touching. It just goes to show that even perceived enemies can be connected through times of trial… which seems to be a common thread in modern day patient-lead movements to improved healthcare.

    As a point of interest in this article, I found it interesting how Sasha actually took some measures outside of the treatment her doctor prescribed in effort to increase the effectiveness of treatment over all. While it is not a direct cure to Lupus, the alteration of her diet to include foods that decrease inflammation is certainly therapeutic in a way that was controlled by Sasha herself, in effect allowing her to take some control over her plaguing ailments. These tips and tricks coming from patients who live with the diseases are prime examples of how healthcare has evolved into something that positions the patients as the ones in power with medical authorities serving in the capacity to essentially sign off on prescription sheets. This patient knowledge is even spread throughout the internet in patient forums such as “Patients Like Me”, enable the increased communication of ailments from the patient perspective and allowing for a personal connection to the disease outside of clinical definitions, facts, and standard treatments. In this way, medicine, such as in the treatment of Sasha’s Lupus, can be given the personal touch and enable the patient to receive the individualized care they really require.

    True, Sasha McHale may have died, but her example as a strong person and a real fighter live on. If her personal battle with Lupus does not carry on to contribute to the growing wealth of patient data, then her resilience will.

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