Pat Summitt, 59, spoke with Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins— who wrote a biography of Summitt and considers Summitt her best friend.
Summitt learned of her diagnosis of Dementia (Early Onset Alzheimer’s) at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Jenkins wrote that Summitt almost punched the first doctor who told her. When a second advised her to retire immediately, Summitt said, “Do you know who you’re dealing with?”
Alzheimer’s is not curable and that’s the only thing definitely known about the disease at this time.
You don’t normally associate Alzheimer’s with someone her age, but early onset dementia sometimes occurs in those 45+. What lies ahead is mostly unknown — how her condition might progress, how stress might affect it, how her players might react to all the attention focused on the health of their coach.
The Connecticut coach, Auriemma, Summitt’s chief rival, said, “There is no doubt in my mind that Pat will take on this challenge as she has all others during her Hall of Fame career — head on. I wish her all the best.”
Summit believes with the help of her staff, she can continue coaching for a long time. Doctors recommend for people diagnosed with early Dementia to get support they need to deal with the news and focus on living life the best they can and making plans for the future and participating in it.
Summitt’s plans to do exactly that. She’s decided to give more responsibility to her assistants. “We have always collaborated on every facet of Lady Vol basketball, and now you will see Holly Warlick, Dean Lockwood and Mickie DeMoss taking on more responsibility as their duties will change significantly,” Summitt wrote in her open letter.
Kallmyer, senior director of constituent services for the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association, said the image many of us have of Alzheimer’s patients in wheelchairs often doesn’t square with reality because better diagnostics means more patients are learning of the condition in its early stages.
“I think it’s important to remember that while Pat is a basketball coach, the architect of one of the most storied programs in the history of our sport, she is also a mother, and she’s a daughter, and she’s a friend,” Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said in a statement. “She’s a person who life is happening to. It takes great, great courage to fight health issues; it takes even greater courage to fight them in front of the world.”
We wish all the best to Pat Summit as she faces the challenges ahead!