by Takara Rooks-Poteat
In January of this year, my older brother Sean and I buried our father who was 68 years old. It appeared he had a heart attack while making his breakfast. Our father was a former athlete who played basketball in college and nearly recognized his dream of playing in the NBA by making the Knicks training camp after he graduated from college.
Sean and I discussed his health and our father’s health the morning of the funeral. I asked Sean if he had all “his ducks in a row” and if he was keeping up with his doctor’s appointment. He stated yes I’m fine, don’t worry. 132 days later, I would receive a call that changed my life forever.
Sean L. Rooks passed away June 7th 2016. I never felt such grief. I cried for my best friend leaving this earth so soon. Sean was a healthy 46 year old who was in great shape. His position as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76er, s involved running drills, and working out with the players. He was never a sideline kind of guy. In fact, he was at a smaller weight than when he played professional ball. Sean was diligent about his health, he ate lean meats, and vegetables, protein smoothies, and all the things we are told to do. His biggest vice may have been his Starbucks latte. The preliminary autopsy reports state my brother passed away from heart disease. How does a healthy former athlete die of heart disease?
Heart disease is the “silent killer”. It is the leading cause of death for men and women. It is leading cause of death for African Americans, Whites, and Hispanics. struggle with the idea that maybe our father had heart disease. I knew he battled high blood pressure, because he smoked, I was concerned about cancer. I have since learned that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stress and smoking are the key risk factors for heart disease!
The basketball community lost a great player, coach, and teammate. My brother Sean played for some amazing teams such as the Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, including the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers. The day my brother passed, he had just interviewed for a coaching position at the New York Knicks, he was ecstatic. Being a part of the Knicks was his dream. He never got a chance to wear the Knicks jersey as a player, but to possibly coach would have had him over the moon.
According to the CDC 614, 348 Americans die annually from heart disease. That is 22,649 more people than cancer. To put it in perspective, more Americans die of Heart disease than entire population of Wyoming. If I had the knowledge I do now, that knowledge could have possibly saved my father’s life and at the very least opened a dialogue in our family that would prompted us to have gotten tested. Maybe that information could have saved my brother’s life as well. My brother is gone, but our pain need not be in vain. Sean has two children, both exceptional ball players, I want to make sure my niece and nephew are tested and aware of heart disease.
Whether you are an athlete or not, the American Heart Association suggest we all make lifestyle changes exercise, watch our sodium intake, quit smoking, eat heart healthy food, like fish and leafy greens and believe it or not get more rest. Screenings involve getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked, protein screening done by a finger prick and aortic screening which involves a noninvasive ultra sound. Your first screening should be done at the age of 20.
This disease doesn’t have to be the silent anymore. The Black Alumni at Arizona University have created the Sean Rooks Memorial Endowment Fund to aid students attending the university. We have created a GoFundMe campaign to support Sean’s endowment, with partial proceeds going to the American Heart Association to aid in the prevention awareness of heart disease.
Takara Rooks-Poteat is the younger sister of former NBA player and coach Sean Rooks. Takara is a Licensed Mental Health Clinician who has a private in NYC and Westchester County.