As some of you may have seen in the past week, Isaiah Austin, the former Baylor big man, is getting his second chance at being a professional basketball player.
Two and a half years ago he had his career sidelined. Standing at 7-foot-1 he was a productive post player. He was not the most athletic guy on the court, but he was projected to go in the first or second round in the 2014 NBA draft.
Like everyone else, he had to go through a pre-draft physical. However, the outcome of his was much different than he expected.
It turns out he had a genetic disorder not well known by many called Marfan Syndrome. Marfan Syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that effects 1 in 5,000 people.
Here’s the thing, I too have Marfan Syndrome and would like to share stories, or provide just some general warnings that maybe someone will listen to.
Sorry, this will get slightly scientific for just a moment, but stick with me. Marfan Syndrome effects the connective tissues of the body. As it sounds, the connective tissues helps hold the body together.
Marfan effects a protein called fibrillin, which help build connective tissues. Since connective tissues are found everywhere in your body, problems arise throughout the body, especially around the heart and eyes.
It is important that Marfan Syndrome gets diagnosed early in a person, otherwise someone could have serious life threatening complications.
I have Marfan Syndrome. I was diagnosed very young. I had shingles at an age I can barely remember. My parents took me to the doctor and they discovered that I had eye problems also. They found the cause of this was Marfan.
Isaiah Austin is blind in his right eye because of his retina moving. I do not know for sure, but that sounds like his first sign of Marfan at an early age.
When I was 5 years old, I had complications with my lens in one eye. I had surgery to correct this; however, when I was 10, I had the same problem in my other eye and the same thing happened. I believe this is when Isaiah should have been tested looking back on that event.
One of the biggest complications comes in the heart. The aorta is the main artery coming out of the heart to the rest of the body. It literally supplies all of your body with blood.
One of the more life threatening complications comes with aortic enlargement. This is my biggest worry about Isaiah going forward.
Because I was diagnosed with Marfan so early, I have been on medicine to control my enlargement as much as possible. As my body grew, the aorta grew too, but physical and strenuous activity can really cause damage.
I played basketball until the fifth grade, but my doctor told me it would be wise to stop playing or else I could cause serious damage to my aorta or other parts of the heart.
I have a close example of this that is about to hit home for me. My awesome dad also has Marfan Syndrome; however, he was not diagnosed until they found out that I had it.
He played basketball all the way through high school. As a result, he now has those complications. He will be having surgery soon to fix his aorta and one of the valves in his heart.
Things can get much worse though. Too much strenuous activity, such as pro basketball, can cause the aorta to weaken as it enlarges. As this happens, blood can begin to escape the inner lining of the aorta and tear the walls of the aorta. This is known as an aortic dissection and it can be fatal. This is my worry for Isaiah.
There have been many basketball players pass away with heart complications. I suspect many of those were undiagnosed Marfan cases.
It’s interesting to see the physical characteristics of someone with Marfan. It actually makes for quite a basketball body. I went to a genetic counselor once and he said I was textbook Marfan appearance.
Most people will be tall and thin, with long extremities. Some people have concave chest while mine is convex, which means it bows outward slightly.
I hope that Isaiah sees his dreams and gets to live it out. I also hope that he will listen carefully to any and all warnings. I am honestly very concerned about doctors letting him play. If he does get to play, I hope he is very careful and will visit a cardiologist regularly.
If you read all of this, thank you for going on that journey with me. It may seem all over the place, but it is very important for anyone to know the characteristics of Marfan Syndrome, because it can be very life threatening.
I wish Isaiah Austin the best of luck in whatever he does. Maybe he can use his platform to raise awareness about this little known genetic disorder.