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Rap Star Nelly: Fitness, Fatherhood, and a Health Foundation

How the chart-topping musician stays healthy while balancing career, family, and advocating for bone marrow donations.
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Rap star Nelly, born Cornell Haynes Jr., is one of the most well-known (and successful) artists in his genre. With a string of chart-topping hits and music industry awards, he's one of the best-selling male artists in American music history. He's also devoted to raising awareness about the importance of bone marrow transplants. WebMD the Magazine sat down with Nelly and asked him about his relationship with his sister, who died of leukemia in 2005, his workout regimen, being a father, and his best and worst health habits.

You really don't need an introduction, do you? In the past decade, you've recorded some of rap's most popular records, you've won three Grammys, and you have six albums under your belt. Your latest, 5.0, hit the charts only a few months ago. However, you do some of your most important work outside the music field. In 2003, you and your older sister, Jackie Donahue, who died of leukemia, founded Jes Us 4 Jackie. How did the foundation get started?

When we first started, we were trying to find a bone marrow donor for my sister. It didn't happen. But I hope to save somebody else's sister someday.

One of the goals of your foundation is to educate minorities about the importance of bone marrow and stem cell transplant donations and to encourage them to sign up for the donor registry. How do you do that? Is it hard to convince people to register?

We've held bone marrow drives in New York and L.A. at the same time, in urban communities. There, a lot of people think donating is going to be dangerous, that it's going to take weeks to recover, but it only takes a couple of hours. You're in and out quickly.

Were you and your sister very close?

We weren't always so close, not as kids. We didn't live in the same house. But we got closer the older we got and could take the relationship into our own hands. We made a conscious decision to make the bond between us strong.

What did you learn from your sister's illness?

That you can live your life as a quote-unquote healthy person and have it all suddenly taken away from you. All that you took for granted, all the obvious, everyday things, they become so much more important.

Sadly, cancer is a part of life for many families. What helped you and your family when your sister was sick?

As a family, you need to stay strong as a unit. The best medicine outside of a cure is the love of your loved ones. It was my sister who was sick. I can only imagine it as a lonely scenario. You can't take away the pain, but you can make them as comfortable as possible. Keep positive, it's the only thing you can do.

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