At the height of his Hall of Fame NBA career, Alonzo Mourning was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease and underwent a kidney transplant mid-season while playing with the Miami Heat. The giant NBA power forward, who pushed himself and his body to reach peak conditioning, was forced to call a timeout on his career.
It wasn’t the first tough decision Mourning had to make. At age 11, growing up in Chesapeake, VA and undecided about who he wanted to live with after his parent’s divorce, Mourning opted to stay in a group home. After one year in a group home, he eventually got picked up by his foster mom, the late Fannie Threet. “I had so many angels around me that helped contribute to my well-being as a person and professional athlete,” Mourning told BLACK ENTERPRISE.
“This helped me evolve into being the #1 HS [high school] recruit in the country and then being drafted to the NBA in 1992.”
The picture of health, an elite athlete at the top of his game, and an NBA superhero, Mourning was in shock when his doctor confronted him with news of a seemingly career-ending kidney disease. “I was a the top of my game, and my health, so I was afraid and unsure when I received the news,” said Mourning.
“After researching and becoming more knowledgeable about kidney disease, I saw it as an opportunity to beat kidney disease, and also help people battling kidney disease.”
After the kidney transplant in 2003, Mourning helped secure Miami’s first NBA championship in 2006 before returning in 2008. In 2010, several years after Alonzo’s transplant, scientists found APOL1-mediated kidney disease (AMKD) was genetically driven (caused by variants of the APOL1 gene) and primarily affected people of African ancestry.
“The vast majority of people who have this disease don’t know they have it or that there is a genetic cause,” said Mourning.
Mourning has partnered with Vertex Pharmaceuticals to launch “Power Forward,” an educational initiative aimed at raising awareness of AMKD, highlighting the importance of early diagnosis and genetic testing.
“African Americans are disproportionately affected by APOL1-mediated kidney disease, which is crucial because AMKD can lead to rapid kidney failure and progresses quickly without obvious symptoms at first,” Mourning told BLACK ENTERPRISE.
Understanding the statistics and getting tested can help identify AMKD variants and save lives. As Mourning fills his role as Vice President of Player Programs for the Miami Heat and continues his advocacy work with Athletes for Hope, AMKD is at the front of his priority list.
“We must get educated, be proactive, and get people to the doctor for a yearly checkup.”
“A simple blood test can identify if you have two variants in your system. If you do, you can start the process to receive the best possible medical solution.”