Isaiah Austin's Mother Helps Guide Her Son From Devastation To Hope

A little more than a year ago, Lisa Green, vice president of cosmetics company Beauty Brands, was driving home from work in Kansas City, Missouri, when she received a phone call that would change her life.

Green, who stands all of 5-foot-3, had raised a 7-foot-1 basketball star who was on the verge of an NBA career. Isaiah Austin, coming off a standout career at Baylor, had overcome so much already.

When he was in eighth grade, he went up to dunk a basketball and sustained a detached retina. The injury did not heal properly, and after four excruciating surgeries over the course of a year, he was left blind in his right eye.

Austin had overcome it, though, developing into a unique big man with the handle of a guard who could step out and shoot the 3. He was projected to be a first-round pick in the NBA draft that was less than a week away.

"I was so excited," his mother remembers. "We had gotten great news from his agent that his workouts were going well. I was preparing that my son would be the first NBA draft pick in history with a disability."

Then, just five days before the draft, that phone call from a cardiologist sent Green reeling. Her son had tested positive for Marfan syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects the heart. The illness, which could lead to a ruptured aorta or cardiac arrest, was discovered during an NBA combine physical. Austin's playing career was over.

"I was stunned," Green says. "And now for me to have to go and tell him ... I had to pull over the car because I couldn't stop crying."

Green went home and relayed the news to her husband, Ben. "He said, 'Let's pack up. We've got to go.' We packed up our kids" -- Austin's younger sister, Narah, and brother, Noah -- "and drove nine hours to Dallas, where Isaiah was staying to prepare for the draft. We didn't pack any clothes, we just got in the car and drove.

"It was the longest drive of my life," Green says. "We were just in mourning. The kids cried themselves to sleep."

They gathered friends and supporters and told Austin the news that night. He was devastated. They all were.

"I couldn't fix it. I couldn't take away that pain," Green says. "I thought, How is he going to get through this? We had about 20 people there and everybody was in tears."

But Green says Austin collected himself and stood strong for his family.

"He sat on the steps and his brother and sister came and they hugged him," Green recalls. "He said, 'You guys, it's going to be OK. It's going to be OK.' And I thought, man, this kid. He's something special."

NBA commissioner Adam Silver had heard the news as well. By the next day he'd invited the family to attend the draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn to receive a special honor. "It was a mixed feeling," Green says, "because we were sad for Isaiah but happy that he would still get to experience some of the things he should have."

The night before the draft, while other players were meeting with the media or team executives, Austin and his family attended a meeting at the Marfan Foundation to learn more about the condition that he faced (read more about it here). The next day they were at Barclays, where Austin was welcomed with the rest of the players. He met Silver backstage.

"There was a permanence to the diagnosis Isaiah had gotten, so there was a sense that this was really a tragic event," Silver says. "My first reaction when I met Isaiah was I could not believe how calm he was. He was the one telling me everything would be OK."

Silver hadn't told the family exactly what he had planned, so when he stopped the draft after the 15th pick and announced he had someone special to honor, they didn't know what to expect. Silver called Austin's name as a ceremonial selection of the NBA.

"I remember hearing Isaiah's name being called and everybody standing up and giving him a standing ovation," Green says. "I remember the other mothers there coming over and hugging me. They couldn't imagine if the roles were reversed and it was their son that couldn't play. All of our kids had all worked so hard to be there.

"I think people want the good in life. I think as a human being you reach for the goodness. I think people all over the world felt that joy of knowing Isaiah was going to be able to walk across that stage, even though he can't play basketball anymore. They wanted that feel-good moment that he was able to accomplish that part of his dream."

The family received an outpouring of support from basketball players, fans and parents who could relate to their ordeal. "Something that was bad turned into a blessing in our lives," she says.

In Houston, Baylor fans Owen and Rod Gray were some of those watching the draft that night.

Owen was a 13-year-old basketball player with dreams of his own. After seeing Austin's story at the draft, Owen's father, Rod, started to do research on the Marfan Foundation website. "Watching the draft that night may have saved my son's life," says Rod Gray.

Gray is not the only one to have been affected by Austin's story. Green recalls a trip the family took to see Baylor play earlier this year.

"Mothers would come up to me and talk to me and say, 'Because of Isaiah we had our kids checked out for Marfan,'" she says. "I don't think he even realizes how many lives he may have saved."

Austin is now a spokesman for the Marfan Foundation and is working to complete his business degree. He's a manager for Baylor's basketball team, has written a book about his experience and has been working for the NBA at special events, including visiting the White House with Silver and Clippers star Chris Paul and coaching the NBA All-Star Celebrity game.

Silver says Austin will have a job with the league's NBA Cares social outreach program when he completes his degree. "It's already set," the commissioner says. "That's how impressed we all were with him and his commitment to people, to basketball ... just the impact he has on people."

Green is proud of her son adapting to this new life. She says there are still difficult moments when the weight of not being able to play basketball anymore settles in. Austin will have to carefully monitor his health, with eye checkups every six months and yearly heart checkups. A possible aortic valve replacement looms in his future. But they'll work through it together.

"We just have to be there, support him and continue to tell him trust in God's plan," Green says. "We can show him we love him whether he plays basketball or not. We love him with all our hearts.

"He always played and worked hard because he truly loved it. We could care less if he played basketball or not. He was never a superstar in our house, he was just Isaiah. But it is still so hard for him not to play."

Austin says his mother has been his rock through his ordeal.

"Because of everything that basketball was to me ... it was really like the love of my life and it was just taken away in an instant," he says. "But if I didn't find out about it I could have collapsed on the court any second. Right now God just has the right people around me and the right support group around me to help me get through this."

Green -- who encourages parents to have their children's hearts tested, "not just because of Marfan, but there are many other heart issues that can affect kids on the court or field" -- says the entire family embraces Austin's new role.

"His purpose now is much more meaningful than if he was just a basketball player," Green says. "He understands he is still a role model. People still look up to him even more so than before but it is definitely a greater purpose."