On June 26, 2014, the National Basketball Association Draft will take place in Brooklyn, N.Y.  One of the top picks expected in the first round, Noah Vonleh, was a star player at New Hampton School (N.H.) from 2011 to 2013 and was my oldest son’s teammate before playing for the University of Indiana last year.

However, one player who will not be taken in Thursday night’s draft has been placed in this unfortunate (or fortunate) circumstance because of medical technology and genetic testing.  Seven-foot, 1-inch center Isaiah Austin just finished his sophomore year at Baylor University, having played with a prosthetic eye since an injury as a teenager led to a retinal detachment (no relation to Steve Austin, the subject of last week’s President’s Blog).  Isaiah was at the NBA Combine this spring, and as part of the standard medical procedure for the combine, an EKG was done, which in his case showed an abnormality.  This led to further blood tests, including genetic testing, which showed that Isaiah has Marfan syndrome.  See the articles in the Washington Post and on ESPN.com

Marfan syndrome is an autosomal dominant inherited disorder of connective tissue.  It is characterized by a mutation in the fibrillin-1 gene (FNB1), and clinically patients may present with long, thin arms and legs, myopia due to a curvature of the retina, joint laxity, sternal abnormalities, and, most importantly, cardiovascular abnormalities including dilated aorta, cardiac valve prolapse and a high risk for an aortic dissection.  Genetic testing for the FNB1 gene identifies between 70 and 93% of mutations.  The standard medical recommendation for patients with Marfan syndrome is to avoid contact/competitive sports, which is why Isaiah retired from basketball this week.  It is important to point out that he did play all through high school and two years of Division 1 men’s basketball while carrying the same genetic makeup.

Some famous athletes who have died from complications of Marfan syndrome include Olympic volleyball player Flo Hyman and Florida State basketball player Ronalda Pierce.

Fortunately for Isaiah, he chose to purchase an NCAA “Exceptional Student-Athlete” disability policy, which will likely provide him with $1 million tax-free, since he will not be able to play professionally in the future and was predicted to be a first-round draft pick.  The genetic testing that caused his basketball dream to end likely saved his life.  Keep that in mind the next time you are involved with preparticipation physicals for your local school teams.


Stuart J. Glassman, MD

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