Jerry West is one of the greatest NBA players of our time. In fact he made his NBA debut 55 years ago today (October 19th, 1960) with the Lakers, a team he played his entire career for. Jerry West not only had a successful career on the hardwood, but he’s made a name for himself behind the scenes as well. He’s currently an executive board member of the Golden State Warriors who won their first NBA title in over 40 years on June 16th.
With the Warriors season set to tip off on October 27th, Jerry West joined me for an interview this morning to discuss the upcoming 2015-2016 NBA season, and on a more serious note, atrial fibrillation (Afib) a condition which he was diagnosed with at age 55. Jerry discussed the condition in length from the most common signs and symptoms to how it can increase your risk of stroke. Please be sure to watch the video below for more information and to hear my interview with Jerry West.
Candace Rose: You’re one of the greatest NBA players of all time and currently an executive board member of the Golden State Warriors who won their first NBA title in 40 years. What is your outlook on the 2015-2016 NBA season?
Jerry West: “Well, I think it’s going to be a great season. The west is going to be loaded of course. Oklahoma City Thunder gets all their players back from injuries last year. You have them, the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Clippers – all those teams are really going to be good, so it’s going to be a task to get back to where we were before. We have a young team, we’re capable, we should get better. The one thing we need to do is maintain the focus we had last year. We’re the number one defensive team in the league, we’re also the number one offensive team. If we can replicate that again, it should be another great year for us.”
Candace Rose: We’re definitely rooting for you and the Golden State Warriors here in Northern California!
Jerry West: “Thank you because it’s created a lot of excitement in the Bay Area that’s for sure and I’m sure even in Sacramento it has, even with the Kings there.”
Candace Rose: Can you tell us about your experience with Afib (atrial fibrillation)? Why is it important to you to spread the word about stroke risk?
Jerry West: “Well, first of all, I was diagnosed with Afib at 55 years of age. They describe it as an irregular heartbeat, but the more information I found about it, the more I talked to the doctors. The thing that scared me most obviously was the risk for strokes. I’ve partnered with Janssen Pharmaceuticals – Billie Jean King is part of this campaign to make people aware of what they can do to protect themselves from stroke risk.
There’s a website: MyAfibRisk.com, they can go on there, there’s eight simple questions that you have to answer (by the way, I’m a two if anyone would like to know). Once you have that information and take it to your doctor, again the most important thing is to continue to take your medication and also everyone who has it has to take a blood thinner.
Friday of last week the FDA came out and announced how important it was for everyone, almost mandatory that you take blood thinners. We’re here to spread the word about it. Sometimes as an athlete you don’t want to talk about your own medical issues, particularly when you’re playing, but I think this is a service for me because I do have a voice and I think it’s important that people know they can seek help and they can help to do anything that they can to alleviate the risk of a stroke and obviously blood thinners are really, really important.”
Candace Rose: What are the signs and symptoms of atrial fibrillation? What’s the link between Afib and stroke?
Jerry West: “Well, for me, when I was a player the doctors said I had an irregular heartbeat. I used to hyperventilate during games. It looked stupid but I would have a brown paper bag and I would blow into that and finally they said it would help, I didn’t know it would help. It just feels like your heart is racing out of your chest. Some people don’t feel this and this is why it’s a silent disease at times. I do feel it and when I’m really in Afib and going too fast, I have to really slow down. I have to try, again to talk to the doctor, do anything that I need to do anything different that I’m doing. They’re always pretty reassuring as long as you take your medication.
There’s six million people in this country that have been diagnosed with Afib. One in three of those people is going to have a stroke risk regardless of what they’re taking. If you’ve been around hospitals, you’ve been around your friends that have had strokes, it’s devastating and I want to do everything that I can because I’m still active. I love to be active. I don’t want to have that problem and that’s why I’m doing everything and more importantly to try to get the word out to people that you need to have yourselves checked. Again, you can go on MyAfibRisk.com, assess your stroke risk, talk to your doctor and make sure you take your blood thinners.”
Candace Rose: Can Afib affect people at any age?
Jerry West: “They diagnose it with high school athletes. As the doctor care has gotten better and people are taking heart tests, these things are discovered at a much earlier age today. Once you know about it, then you know the risk you’re taking and it can be treated even if you’re young.
It’s devastating – I’ve known two or three of my friends who’ve had strokes and it’s hard to believe the same people I’ve known for so many years are so restricted in what they can or cannot do. Any campaign like this is to make people more aware and that’s why you need to go and have regular checkups with your doctor. I go see my doctor once a month. It’s important to me to know if my condition is changed and I also need to know if there needs to be any additional meds that I might have to take. It’s really important that people understand the risk involved.”
Candace Rose: Absolutely! What can people do to help support your cause and where can they go for more information?
Jerry West: “Again, it’s MyAfibRisk.com. You go on that and you can answer these eight questions and you’ll find out if you’re at risk, that’s for sure. There’s another important thing out there, an organization called Mended Hearts. It’s a nonprofit organization, these people volunteer their time, they go to the hospitals where people have had heart problems, they go in there, they’re a support group and they’re very, very valuable. We’re pleased to be able to contribute money to them also.”