NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Former U.S. soccer star Lauren Holiday has been diagnosed with a brain tumor while pregnant, and her husband, New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, is taking indefinite leave from the NBA club to care for his wife, the Pelicans said Sunday.
“We are all praying for a healthy delivery of their first child and a successful surgery for Lauren,” Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said in a prepared statement provided Sunday by the club. “Furthermore, we ask everyone to respect the Holidays’ privacy at this time.”
Lauren Holiday, who retired from soccer last year, was among the world’s most respected players in the women’s game during a career highlighted by Olympic gold medals with the U.S. national team in 2008 and 2012, and a FIFA World Cup title in 2015. The midfielder played in 133 games for the U.S. team, scoring 24 goals. She also played professionally in the NWSL, winning a championship with FC Kansas City in 2015.
Lauren Holiday met Jrue at UCLA, where she played soccer and he played basketball. Jrue Holiday has been with New Orleans the past three seasons, but has spent most of that stint injured. He expects to return this season in full health and the Pelicans see him as a core player along with All-Star forward Anthony Davis.
“The most important thing for Jrue to do right now is be with his wife and family,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said in a statement. “Every one of our coaches and players understands what Lauren and Jrue are going through, and they know we’re behind them one hundred percent. We’ll continue to do everything we can to support them and help them get through these hard times.”
In an interview with the Times-Picayune/NOLA.com, which first reported Lauren Holiday’s condition and Jrue Holiday’s plan to take leave, Jrue Holiday said Lauren was diagnosed with a benign, operable tumor on the right side of her brain.
Their baby is due in mid-October, and in the interest of the health of both mother and baby, Lauren’s brain surgery will take place about six weeks after delivery, Jrue Holiday said. The birth also could be induced early.
Jrue Holiday told the newspaper that Lauren has numbness on the right side of her face because the tumor is pressing on a nerve.
He said he and Lauren “are still very excited about the birth of our first child, but our focus shifted from having this magnificent blessing to making sure everything is going to be OK with Lauren and the child.”
The couple has sought to guard their privacy during this time, and Lauren has yet to speak publicly about her condition.
However, some member of the U.S. national team said Holiday had written them about her condition and they were eager to support her.
“She’s just a very resilient strong person and she has strong faith and that’s helping her in keeping her strong during this time because it is scary,” said Becky Sauerbrunn, a former teammate with the U.S. national team and FC Kansas City. “If anyone could get through something like this, it is Lauren.”
Heather O’Reilly, another former teammate with the U.S. national team and FC Kansas City, said, “We’re there for her. We’re all behind her. That’s kind of what times like these sort of show is how close-knit this soccer community is.”
For the time being, the Holidays plan to reside Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, near the Duke University medical specialists who’ll handle Lauren Holiday’s surgery. After Lauren’s operation, Jrue will be a primary caretaker for both his wife and newborn. The Pelicans said they plan to send a trainer to North Carolina to help Jrue maintain his fitness and basketball skills during his absence.
“We encourage Jrue to take as much time as he needs to be with his wife and family before returning to the Pelicans,” Demps said, adding that the top priority of team owners Tom and Gayle Benson “is the health and wellness of the people in the organization.”
“We understand that Jrue will miss some games, and his teammates are prepared to step up in his absence,” said Demps, whose own wife, Anita, is a cancer survivor and also has had a benign tumor removed from her brain. “We will welcome Jrue back with open arms when he is ready to return to the team.”
Last season, Jrue Holiday played in 65 games, averaging 16.8 points, six assists, three rebounds and 1.4 steals in 28.2 minutes per game. For about the first half of last season, he played under minute restrictions as he came back from a stress fracture in his lower right leg that sidelined him for the better part of the previous two seasons.
His replacements to start the upcoming season could include Tim Frazier, who filled at the end of last season after Holiday was sidelined by fracture of his orbital eye wall. New Orleans also acquired former New York Kicks point guard Langston Galloway this offseason.
Pelicans combo guard Tyreke Evans also has played point guard in stints throughout his career, but the timeline on his comeback from knee surgery remains unclear.