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76ers center diagnosed with rare nerve disorder

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2003

PHILADELPHIA -- Diag-nosed with a disease that weakens his legs and disrupts his balance, Todd MacCulloch could be done playing basketball.

The Philadelphia 76ers' center underwent additional tests Monday at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Team spokesman Chris Wallace said the 76ers wouldn't immediately discuss the results.

Medical experts said Monday it's unlikely MacCulloch will be able to continue playing with a genetic disorder known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

In most cases, doctors said, patients lose normal use of their feet and legs slowly as their nerves stop working properly and their muscles deteriorate.

''It's a progressive disease, and at this time there is no treatment,'' said Dr. Carlos Garcia, a professor of clinical neurology at Tulane. ''Sometimes surgery can help, but I don't believe you can play basketball once you have these types of problems in your feet and your hands.''

At a news conference Sunday, MacCulloch tried to sound upbeat but choked back tears as he talked about making basketball ''secondary.''

''It's been really difficult for me,'' the 27-year-old center said.

''I feel I've had kind of a charmed life, a blessed life. ... I was just kind of wondering when things weren't going to go so well.''

MacCulloch's agent, Aaron Goodwin, did not immediately return a call Monday.

The disease is hereditary. MacCulloch said his mother also suffers from poor balance and leg soreness, but has never been diagnosed with the syndrome. Doctors said if the diagnosis is accurate, MacCulloch's symptoms won't improve and will only worsen.

''The likelihood of him returning would be low,'' said Dr. Shawn Bird, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania. ''An athlete who has already had to miss games because of the onset of symptoms might able to play for a bit while longer, but not at the same level.''

About 150,000 Americans have Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, doctors said. MacCulloch was born in Canada.

MacCulloch has missed 16 games this season. He has averaged 7.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in just over 19 minutes.

The discomfort in his foot dates from late last season, when MacCulloch missed 20 games with the New Jersey Nets. The 76ers acquired MacCulloch and Keith Van Horn in the offseason for Dikembe Mutombo.



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