NBA Player Jared Butler on Living with Rare Heart Condition: I 'Didn't Know What It Was'

Utah Jazz player and 2021 NCAA Tournament champion Jared Butler was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy before the start of his college basketball career

NBA Player Jared Butler
Photo: Could It Be HCM?

NBA player Jared Butler hopes to inspire others to be mindful of their health by opening up about his own diagnosis with a rare heart condition.

Before the start of his college basketball career, Butler underwent a preliminary physical that led to a surprising discovery — he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which causes the walls of the heart chamber to thicken.

"My EKG was abnormal, and they led to more tests of the heart," the 21-year-old Utah Jazz player and 2021 NCAA Tournament champion recounts to PEOPLE. "And I found out that I had HCM and like you, I had had no experience or didn't know what it was."

While people with HCM can develop symptoms such as chest pain during exercise, shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness, Butler says he hadn't experienced any indication something was amiss. And according to the American Heart Association, many people with HCM don't have symptoms and may not until the condition develops over time.

HCM's chronic nature also means it can eventually lead to long-term complications, like atrial fibrillation, stroke, and other heart-related problems — increasing the risk of death.

Jared Butler #13 of the Utah Jazz in action during a game against the Sacramento Kings
Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Fortunately, Butler has not experienced any symptoms of the condition, and it did not stop him from having a successful tenure at Baylor University, which led to him being selected during the 2021 NBA Draft.

"I'm so proud of him. My dream was for him to be able to have the opportunity to play," Butler's mother, Juanea, tells PEOPLE of her son. "He's always wanted to play, ever since he was little. He's been playing ball ever since he was five years old. I wanted to see him live out his dream, and I'm just so grateful. I am really grateful."

Because HCM can be passed down genetically, Juanea was tested for the condition and discovered she had the gene though she has, too, never experienced symptoms.

"That was really shocking, that was really shocking for me," she recalls.

Now, the pair are raising awareness for a new website, Could It Be HCM?, which serves as an online resource for people with HCM.

"HCM is a lifelong condition in which the heart muscle can thicken, which can make it difficult for the heart to pump blood throughout the body," Dr. Michael Ackerman, Butler's genetic cardiologist, tells PEOPLE. "HCM is potentially an inherited disease and can run in families as seen with Jared and his mother. The challenge with HCM is that while many patients have symptoms, many do not. In addition, the symptoms patients experience can be similar to those of other conditions, making it difficult to diagnose."

"While Jared is fortunate to be able to do this, every case is different and HCM can limit people's activities," Ackerman adds.

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The Could It Be HCM? website has information to help guide people who may suspect they have HCM, along with tips on how to manage the condition. It's a resource that may have helped Butler when he was first diagnosed.

"I feel like I'm at a point in my life where I want to share my story and share the experiences that I have," Butler says, "just so I can help others that are going through the same thing."

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