The death of Alexandra "Sasha" McHale, the daughter of Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale, is shining a new light on lupus, the disease that led to her untimely death at 23.
Just one week into the 2012-2013 NBA season, McHale suddenly took leave from his post as the Rockets coach, citing personal family matters. But on Saturday, his daughter's death became the apparent reason for his leave.
Rockets owner Leslie Alexander confirmed the news of McHale's daughter's death in Minnesota on Saturday in a statement released on Sunday.
"I extend my deepest condolences to Kevin and Lynn for the loss of their beautiful daughter, Sasha, on Saturday afternoon," the statement read. "Kevin and Lynn are loving and dedicated parents who will need our continued support throughout this very difficult time. Our entire organization is mourning the McHale family's loss and we ask that you keep them in your thoughts and prayers."
While her cause of death was not announced, Houston Chronicle's sports writer Jonathan Feign said McHale had suffered from lupus for her whole life. Feign reported that McHale was recently hospitalized with a condition stemmed from lupus.
Lupus, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, is "one of the world’s cruelest, most unpredictable and devastating diseases." The auto-immune disease causes the inability of the immune system to distinguish between foreign diseases and healthy body tissue. Then, autoantibodies are created to attack and destroy healthy tissues, causing chronic inflammation, pain and damage. According to the foundation, many victims of lupus then die from damage to the skin, joints, blood and kidneys.
The estimated 1.5 million Americans with lupus suffer from symptoms such as fatigue, headache, pain, fever, anemia, swelling and hair loss. According to the foundation, more than five million people worldwide have lupus, with women of color 2-3 more likely to develop the disease.
So far, there is no cause of lupus though studies have shown genes are involved in its development, even if there is no family history of lupus. While genes increase chanes, many environmental factors trigger lupus like UV rays, sulfa drugs, infections, colds, viruses, injuries, stress and being pregnant.
There is no cure for lupus yet but with proper treatment, the foundation said 80 to 90 percent of people with lupus live for a normal life span. However, those with more severe cases are difficult to treat.
According to Businessweek, McHale was hospitalized the same day her father took leave on Nov. 10 when assistant coach Kelvin Sampson took over.
“Sasha was a daddy’s girl,” Sampson told the Houston Chronicle. “I remember last year during the lockout when we were meeting, she got sick. She was on a study abroad and had to come back. He just talked about her all the time. It’s just tough. It’s terrible.”
McHale, who was a a student in the liberal arts school at the University of Minnesota Duluth, was one of five children. According to the Grand Forks Herald, McHale became sick in 2011 during a study abroad trip to Australia.
She was positive even though she struggled so much," former high school basketball teammate Veronica Scott told the Grand Forks Herald. "Everyone that knew her was impacted by her, and she brought happiness to every person."
Scott said McHale began to miss classes and grew closer despite her stay at home in Minnesota.
"She was encouraging me even though (her condition) was worse," Scott said, adding the duo dieted together for different health concerns, but namely McHale's lupus.