Utah Jazz rookie Jared Butler opens up about heart diagnosis in new Bristol Myers Squibb awareness campaign

NCAA standout Jared Butler, who just began his rookie season with the Utah Jazz, and his mother, Juanea, are opening up about their family's experience with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. (Bristol Myers Squibb)

NBA rookie Jared Butler was 18 and ready to launch his Division I college basketball career when he learned during a routine physical exam that he had a genetic heart condition, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). 

He’d never had symptoms nor even heard of the disease. 

“I was just surprised, shocked and just distraught, especially about moving forward with my life,” the now 21-year-old recalled.  “Do I even pursue basketball anymore? Do I pursue an engineering degree, you know, just be a regular student?” 

Butler, who led Baylor University to the 2021 NCAA men’s basketball championship this year and now plays pro for the Utah Jazz, recounted the experience for the first time publicly in a video—which debuts today, Nov. 15—for Bristol Myers Squibb’s new campaign “Could It Be HCM?”

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The unbranded campaign aims to raise awareness about the common but often overlooked disease and to educate the public about the risk and symptoms, Michelle Calope, BMS’ vice president for U.S. cardiovascular and established brands, said in an email interview. 

The effort comes as BMS eyes an FDA approval in January for its recently acquired heart drug mavacamten to treat symptomatic obstructive HCM. The chronic condition causes the walls of the heart to thicken, leaving less room for blood to fill the heart. It can be debilitating and, in rare cases, can lead to sudden cardiac death.

“HCM can be a challenge for healthcare providers to diagnose in part because it can be asymptomatic,” Calope explained. When symptoms do appear—like shortness of breath, fast heart beat, tiredness and feeling dizzy—they’re often mistaken for other conditions like anxiety, asthma or heart failure.

BMS wants to change that and is rolling out a new website that includes a downloadable symptom list and discussion guide to help people start conversations with their doctor if they're having symptoms or suspect they may have the disease.

Butler, who is asymptomatic, has been cleared to play basketball, but his condition is closely monitored by his doctor, a specialist from the Mayo Clinic who also appears in the video along with Butler’s mother, Juanea, who carries the gene for the disease.

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As the campaign spokesman, Butler will share his story in interviews across print, online and broadcast media and will promote the campaign on social media, BMS said.

“He has not yet talked publicly about his diagnosis but is passionate about raising awareness of HCM and helping others who may be living with this condition,” Calope said. 

BMS picked up mavacamten in its $13.1 billion MyoKardia buyout in 2020 after the drug aced a phase 3 pivotal trial earlier that year. 

The FDA is slated to decide on the drug by Jan. 28, 2022, and it’s also under review by regulators in Europe. If approved, BMS says the myosin inhibitor will be the first HCM med on the market that targets the underlying molecular defect of the disease.