Rare Syndrome Took Life of NBA Legend

Basketball legend Manute Bol's dream of building schools in Sudan to unify the warring ethnic factions that killed his relatives may have ultimately cost him his life.

One of the MBA's tallest players ever, Bol was on a charity mission to his native Sudan when an unusual series of medical conditions spiraled into a reaction called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. Blisters from the syndrome were so severe that he was unable to eat or drink for 11 days.

Bol died on June 19, a month after his poor health forced his return home from Africa. He was 47.

NBA Star Manute Bol Dies at 47

"He ultimately gave his life for his country," said Rev. Prichard, executive director of Sudan Sunrise, which worked with Bol to build schools in southern Sudan.

From his deathbed, Bol, continued planning advocacy tours to Sudan. "Four days before he died, he said, 'I want to go back to Sudan in October,'" Prichard recalled.

Bol played 10 seasons in the National Basketball Association. At 7 feet, 7 inches tall, he led the league in blocks in 1985-86 and 1988-89 with Golden State.

On his last trip to Africa, Prichard said, Bol was visiting southern Sudan at the request of the president to help deliver an anti-corruption message.

But Bol had arrived in Sudan already ill with a kidney infection.

"Manute was determined to get back to southern Sudan, and he was taking an antibiotic," Prichard said. "When he boarded the U.N. plane he left one bag behind due to space and he was separated (from) his medication."

Bol's infection worsened and he was sent to a hospital in Nairobi where he received medication for his kidney infection which ultimately led to a Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, Prichard said.

Stevens-Johnson syndrome is an immune system reaction that results in blisters on the skin and on the eyes, lips, mouth, and any other mucus membrane in the body.

Prichard said Bol's blisters were so bad it "caused his mouth to be so sore, his tongue swollen" and he was unable to eat or drink.

"I think getting dehydrated was what contributed to his kidney failure," he said.

Severe blisters from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome often send patients to the intensive care unit and specialty burn centers, said Dr. Joseph Jorizzo, a member of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Manute Bol Suffered Stevens-Johnson Syndrome

"It could feel to a patient a little like a burn, even though it's not a burn at all," said Jorrizo, who is the founding chair of dermatology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Jorrizo said so much skin could be lost in Stevens-Johnson Syndrome that patients needs experts in treating severe burns to stave off toxic and life-threatening infections.

The blisters of Steven-Johnson Syndrome are unlike cold sores or regular burns, said Dr. Elaine Josephson, a fellow and national spokeswoman for American College of Emergency Physicians. As an emergency room physician, she can spot them right away.

"It's mildly itchy, pink red blotches symmetrically arranged. It's red and it has a pale center on the outside," said Josephson.

However Josephson said the syndrome is rare enough that many people arrive at the emergency room only after other treatments have failed.

"Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is a life threatening condition, affects the skin, causes the epidermis of the skin to separate from the dermis," said Josephson. "We really don't know what's causing it, but the main class of known causes is medications and infections."

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