Baylor basketball player diagnosed with rare genetic disease


POSTED: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - 5:02pm

UPDATED: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - 6:19pm

Standout Baylor basketball player Isaiah Austin was on his way to the NBA. But, his dream was shattered when he found out he has Marfan Syndrome.

A couple days before the NBA draft, Austin found out he had that rare genetic disease. It's a genetic disorder that causes problems with connective tissues that holds together all of the body cells, organs and tissues. This disorder can make the body weak and can cause the aorta in the heart to tear or rupture. Because of his recent diagnosis, Austin found out his career in basketball, is sadly over.

"I grew up playing basketball my whole life and I just have a passion for it that's unbreakable," said Austin.

He went in for a physical with the NBA and they found something unusual. After some further tests, Austin was positive for Marfan Syndrome.

"It's a genetic disorder that causes a problem in the connective tissue formation," said Dr. Scott Lieberman, cardiologist at Cardiovascular Associates East Texas.

"I was just in shock. My body just went weak and I was just like a ghost for a little bit," said Austin.

Doctors told him to quit basketball immediately.

"In a competitive athletic environment, his blood pressure is going to be shooting up all the time, his heart rate is going to be real high, it puts a lot of demand on the aorta and it increases the risk of developing the aneurysm and dissection which ultimately leads to sudden death," said Dr. Lieberman.

Dr. Lieberman said people with Marfan Syndrome are usually very tall and thin. Austin is 7 ft 1.

"They tend to have real long fingers, feet and arms but their body may actually be normal size. They're extremities may be much longer," said Dr. Lieberman.

Austin is blind in one eye, after suffering from a detached retina. Dr. Lieberman said vision problems and blindness is a common effect of Marfan Syndrome. It is a very rare disease and only affects 1 in 5 thousand people. Dr. Lieberman said a busy cardiologist might only see two or three in their entire career. Because of Austin's tall height and vision loss in one eye, this should have been a red flag. There is no cure for this disorder but surgeries, regular doctor checkups and medicine can help.

"The people you see in the NBA have a very typical marfanoid type of appearance. That's why it's not uncommon that you see basketball players end up being diagnosed because the same traits that give them the height and the arm reach that are selected in basketball players are always associated with traits of the syndrome," said Dr. Lieberman.

But, Austin said this is not the end.

"All my strength comes from Him. I know his healing hands are around me and my family around this tough time in our life but, I know that we can get through it," said Austin.   

Coach Scott Drew’s statement on Isaiah’s condition:

"This is devastating news, but Isaiah has the best support system anyone could ask for, and he knows that all of Baylor Nation is behind him. His health is the most important thing, and while it's extremely sad that he won't be able to play in the NBA, our hope is that he'll return to Baylor to complete his degree and serve as a coach in our program."

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