Austin Jackson was a perfect match for his sister's bone marrow transplant

By Claudia Harmata
April 26, 2020 03:00 PM
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Austin Jackson
Austin Jackson and his sister, Autumn
| Credit: ESPN

First-round draftee Austin Jackson didn't think twice about putting his football dreams on hold to help his sister, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Diamond-Blackfan anemia.

The disorder left Jackson's sister, Autumn, unable to produce enough red blood cells to stay alive, forcing her to rely on blood transfusions every three weeks. After years of undergoing the transfusions, doctors told the family that she would need a bone marrow transplant to survive.

During his junior year at the University of Southern California, Austin — now an offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins — learned he was a perfect match and decided to take a break from football to undergo the procedure and become a donor for his sister.

“It was a godsend,” Jackson told the Los Angeles Times. “There are 12 criteria through blood that you match. I matched all 12.”

Speaking to ESPN ahead of the 2020 NFL draft, he said he had "no" hesitation about being the donor. "This is something that I can't pass up," he said. "This is, like, a once in a lifetime opportunity. I can only imagine how many siblings wish they could do something like this for their sibling."

In July 2019, Austin underwent a nearly four-hour-long procedure, during which doctors drilled numerous holes into his hip to extract 1.4 liters of his bone marrow. Leading up to the surgery, the athlete spent the summer away from his USC teammates, training on his own to avoid any risk of infection before the procedure.

Austin Jackson
Credit: Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Image

"I feel like he’s a superhero sometimes because it really is a courageous thing to do," Autumn told ESPN of her older brother.

According to Dr. Holly Miller — a bone marrow transplant physician — a successful transplant meant Autumn would not only no longer need transfusions, but would also no longer have to worry about the risk of leukemia, heart failure and liver failure.

"He's saving her life. That's what he's doing," she told ESPN at the time of the procedure.

Less than a month after his surgery, Austin rejoined his USC teammates for their first fall practice. Then on August 31, he was a starting player during the team's opening game of the 2019 season.

“I had to come back out here and start my life back up,” Jackson told the Times. “That’s my focus now. My family told me to trust that my sister is going to be OK. They’re going to take care of her.

Sure enough, his sister began recovering quickly after the transplant. "I feel stronger, certain tasks are easier to do," she told ESPN. "I'm starting to plan for the future, even though I have no idea what's going to happen next, but it's just so fun to know that I can do it one day."

Autumn was by Austin's side on Thursday when her brother's name was called and he was drafted as the 18th pick in the first round by the Dolphins.

"It's unbelievable, it really is. Just everything that's gone on in this last year, just praying and pushing each other along to get to where we needed to be," Austin said.

"It's just an amazing feeling to be able to be here and sit down with him and witness all of this right now and not be in a hospital," Autumn added.