Amyloidosis: The Rare Disease That Has History in the NBA

On the court in the 1970s, there was nothing small about the presence of “Tiny” Archibald. And now, the mysterious heart condition he suddenly faces has created an immense, life-threatening dilemma, one that once again belies this NBA Hall of Famer’s well-known nickname.

Nate Archibald, a 14-year pro and member of the Boston Celtics championship team in 1981, learned that he suffers from an incurable heart disease. The condition, amyloidosis, can affect any organ or tissue, and there are many types. But when it affects the heart, it can shut it down at any moment.

“What I have is really rare,” said Archibald, speaking with ESPN, adding that he hopes to reach his 70th birthday on September 2, and many more after that. “There’s no pills, nothing they have found that works. I’m being tested all the time, just hoping, you know? … My [heart] could go any minute.”

So what is amyloidosis?

Essentially, it’s an accumulation of amyloid, an abnormal protein produced in bone marrow. It can collect in any organ, but in Archibald’s case it found its way to his heart. And the buildup limits his heart from filling with blood while preventing it from beating properly. The blockage also stiffens the heart and forces the organ to work excessively, operating faster and harder to accomplish the same tasks as a healthy heart.

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