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Lakers' Larry Nance Jr. uses Crohn's treatment to educate and inspire

LOS ANGELES -- Larry Nance Jr. sits in an infusion center room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, intravenous medicine flowing into his right arm while a blood-pressure cuff is fixed to his left.

His blood pressure at the moment suggests that he's nervous, but Nance begs to differ.

"I've been doing it for so long that it's whatever," the second-year Los Angeles Lakers forward says. "The pin and needle sticks and all that don't get to me anymore."

Nance was diagnosed with Crohn's disease at 16, and ever since, he has received infusions of Remicade, which he now takes every 7½ weeks. Nance even once thought of quitting basketball before those infusions turned his life around.

"The Remicade is what keeps me healthy, and when that starts to dwindle a little bit, I feel it," Nance says of the medication. "I wouldn't say it affects me too much -- I'm pretty good at fighting through it -- but it's definitely something that when it gets to that time, I start taking more naps and stuff like that."

Beside Nance is a plate of chocolate-chip cookies and sliced melon, but no berries, because those contain seeds, which can upset his stomach. His diet is relatively flexible, but there are some restrictions: no nuts, seeds, popcorn and, occasionally, dairy.

Surrounding Nance are seven fans, three of them children who either have Crohn's disease or another inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Nance and Cedars-Sinai have teamed up to host patients suffering from IBD, giving them a chance to speak one-on-one with Nance as he receives his bimonthly treatment.

As each patient nervously approaches him for an autograph and a picture, Nance flashes a giant smile and asks how long they've been suffering from their illness.

"I was very nervous and excited at the same time to meet him," says David Lasky, a 10-year-old given a diagnosis of Crohn's disease just over a year and a half ago. "He's such an amazing guy. ... He makes sure you're always comfortable and don't feel rushed or nervous. He's very understanding and wants to listen to you."

After listening to a patient's story, Nance lightens the mood, cracking jokes and asking patients to name their favorite NBA team.

If they mention the Lakers, he asks them to identify their favorite player; most say Kobe Bryant. Nance then brings up Bryant's 60-point finale and gushes about Bryant's intelligence.

If they mention another team -- a couple of patients dare to say they're Clippers fans -- he jokingly asks one of the doctors waiting outside of the room to usher the patient out. Then he interrogates them, asking them how they could not root for the Lakers in Los Angeles, regardless of the franchise's recent struggles.

One patient says he's a Golden State Warriors fan. Nance shoots him a dirty look. The patient's dad laughs and says, "That's almost as bad as being a Clippers fan."

Nance wryly quips back, "No, it's not."

He then adds: "We're going to be better this season and next. I can promise you that. We're on the way up."

Overall, Nance speaks with roughly 60 people of various ages (ranging from 7 to 50) and backgrounds (patients came from areas as far north as Calabasas and as far south as Orange County) during a two-hour period.

His prevailing message -- to not let Crohn's disease dictate your life or prevent you from pursuing your dreams -- is meant to inspire.

When Lasky was diagnosed with the disease last year, he felt as though his aspirations of playing professional basketball had ended. To cheer him up, his mom looked up athletes who have the illness, and found Nance, who played for Lasky's favorite team, the Lakers.