All his life, Isaiah Austin had dreams of playing in the NBA, until this week, when he was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, forcing him to quit competitive basketball due to increased risk of serious vascular injury. Austin’s experience with Marfan’s Syndrome, including the associated vision loss, began years earlier.
At the age of twelve, Isaiah Austin, was playing first base at a baseball camp, and when he wasn’t looking, was struck in the right eye by an incoming ball. While he suffered no immediate vision loss, he was told by physicians that his retina was loose, and at increased risk of detachment.
Two years later, while doing his normal warm-up routine for a middle school basketball game, Austin dunked the basketball, and according to him, “As soon as I came down, I opened my eyes, and I just saw red.” Austin was quickly seen by ophthalmologist Dr. Gregory Kozielec, who diagnosed him with a retinal detachment, stating it was “Among the worst detachments I had seen in my 15-20 year career.” After four subsequent surgeries, Austin was unable to recover his vision in his right eye, and ultimately underwent removal of the eye, with placement of an eye prosthesis. He would go on to have a successful high school career, and learned to shoot with limited peripheral vision and no depth perception, relying instead on “muscle memory, stating “my body just knows where to send the ball.”
Marfan Syndrome affects the vision in a number of ways, most well known of which is lens dislocation, occurring in as many as 60% of individuals. Other common eye findings include amblyopia, strabismus, myopia, and like in Isaiah Austin, retinal detachments.
In January 2014, prior to a Baylor Bears basketball game, ESPN ran a video story on Isaiah Austin and his challenges with vision loss due to retinal detachment. Now, months later, and unfortunately just days before likely hearing his name called in the NBA Draft, genetic testing has revealed a positive diagnosis with Marfan Syndrome. While I cannot begin to imagine how devastating such news might be to Austin and his family, I am confident he will go on to do great things, both for basketball (he may return to Baylor to earn his degree and join the coaching staff) as well as for Marfan Syndrome awareness and vision health.
Just as his mother said when he began having challenges with his vision years ago, “You can make it your excuse, or you can make it your story. You can touch lives or you can be a quitter.” Isaiah Austin will make it his story, and he will touch many lives in the process.