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"It's just the beginning:" Butler overcomes heart condition to fulfill NBA dreams

Jared Butler.jpeg
Posted at 3:17 PM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 16:17:21-05

WACO, Texas — Before he ever took the Ferrell Center floor in Waco, Baylor guard Jared Butler's basketball dreams were almost dashed by a stunning diagnosis.

Before his freshman season at the University of Alabama, Butler met with school doctors and trainers who revealed he actually suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a genetic heart condition which makes it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the body. The diagnosis caught Butler off guard, because he had never noticed any symptoms stemming from the condition.

"It was just scary because I didn't know what it was," Butler said. "I didn't know what it would mean for my basketball career. Would I still be able to continue to play?"

Shortly after his diagnosis, Butler transferred to Baylor University to join Scott Drew and the Bears. Over the next few months, he continued to undergo testing to further understand the severity of his newfound condition.

Doctors encouraged his mother, Juanea, to get tested as well. They then determined she had been the silent, asymptomatic carrier of the HCM-causing gene Jared had inherited.

"I was totally in denial because I had no idea what this was," Juanea said. "I had never heard of it. We had no family history behind it, so we were clueless."

That fear and anxiety slowly subsided over the following months, as Jared and Juanea learned more about the symptoms associated with HCM, including shortness of breath, chest pain, rapid heartbeat and dizziness. Jared said he rarely experienced any symptoms and he rarely, if ever, had to change his basketball routine.

Jared says he considers himself lucky.

An estimated 1 in 200 to 1 in 500 people in the U.S. deal with HCM, although many go through life undiagnosed. HCM is the most common genetic heart disease.

While doctors told him he would be okay, in the early stages after his diagnosis, Butler said he felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness and fear surrounding his condition. He said there were no advocates for HCM awareness he could turn to for reassurance.

"The first few weeks I was extremely hopeless, so I would've loved to have somebody as open and informative about this condition," Butler said.

In his time at Baylor, Butler played in 94 games for the Bears, scoring more that 1300 points and leading them to their first national championship. Butler eventually achieved his dream of playing in the NBA, when he was drafted by the Utah Jazz.

Now, he hopes he can be a voice of encouragement and reassurance for other kids who may be dealing with a similar diagnosis.

"My role is definitely to be a light for people who might be going through the same thing I experienced at 17 years old, learning that I have this condition and not knowing anyone else with this condition. So I just really want to be a model, a trailblazer for anyone that's looking for information," Butler said.

His message is simple.

"Your story is not over at your diagnosis. It's just the beginning."

Feburary 23 was HCM Awareness Day. Those dealing with symptoms associated with HCM should talk with their doctors and visit the site for more information.