Jasmine’s family (l-r) Mom Joanne Duffey, dad Alvin Duffey, Jasmine, sister Jawanda Duffey, and brother Jarvis Williams.
At 6’7” tall, Jasmine Duffey was one of the nation’s top basketball prospects in high school. She headed to Middle Tennessee State to pursue her dreams of college basketball, with hopes of going even further in the sport she loved. It was not to be.
Looking back, it was incredible that Jasmine was still competing on the court in college. She had the lens removed from an eye at the age of three and then, in high school, while playing volleyball, was spiked in the eye with the ball, causing a retinal detachment and the subsequent loss of sight in her left eye. She was even evaluated for Marfan syndrome when her brother was diagnosed. While she had outward signs of Marfan, they did not stand out because her father – who did not have Marfan – also had a tall stature.
Before Jasmine was diagnosed with Marfan, basketball was her life. In 2007, while playing a pick-up game during her freshman year at Middle Tennessee State, Jasmine felt a sharp pain and was taken to a local hospital, where she was diagnosed with Marfan and told she could no longer play competitive basketball.
Still, Jasmine didn’t think that was the end of her basketball playing days. That changed in 2010 after Jasmine went to an eye doctor who told her she needed a “simple fix” in the one eye she could see out of. The surgery was nothing but simple and, due to complications, she awoke from the surgery completely blind.
“First, basketball was taken from me, and then my sight,” said Jasmine. “I didn’t understand why this was happening to me. Even my dream of coaching was no longer possible. I was in a very dark place.”
Since then, many other family members were diagnosed with Marfan and Jasmine’s brother and sister both needed aortic surgery, which was done successfully by Dr. Morris Brown, chief of cardiovascular surgery at the Piedmont Heart Institute in Atlanta.
If Jasmine had been able to see, she would have sought opportunities overseas to continue playing basketball competitively. She acknowledges that she would have probably faced the same emergency as her siblings – and she might not have been as fortunate to have had expert surgical care elsewhere.
“Losing my sight saved my life,” she realized.
Getting the Best Medical Care is Critical
Jasmine is now under the expert care of Dr. Brown and his colleagues at Piedmont Heart and is getting ready for preventive surgery on her aorta to avoid the emergency operation that her siblings had.
“I am so fortunate to have great care. Dr. Brown knows my history of failed surgery and takes extra steps to make me feel comfortable as I face another operation. He really breaks it down for me so I’m not so afraid,” said Jasmine. “Dr. Brown looks over my whole family. He stays very connected. He’d rather have me walking into the hospital for my surgery than carried in.”
“When we treat people with Marfan syndrome, we frequently end up taking care of the entire family over a long period of time,” said Dr. Brown. “We get to know them well and develop a close personal relationship, which doesn’t usually happen with cardiac surgeons. Helping someone you know so well is, no doubt, stressful, but it is also gratifying beyond description.”
Jasmine, who is 33, is an audio engineer. She still shoots hoops with the help of her sister, who stands under the basket and yells to her so she knows where to aim.
“I can’t run up and down the court like I used to,” she said, “but I still like to go to the gym.”
Jasmine is also a motivational speaker and uses spoken word poetry to share her story, helping other people who are blind and empowering women. In addition, she works with young athletes who are less fortunate and helps them get to college.
Jasmine continues to make an impact on her community every day, thanks to the great healthcare she receives and her own motivation.
As she says, “Everything happens for a reason.”
The Marfan Foundation is a nonprofit organization that saves lives and improves the quality of life of individuals with genetic aortic and vascular conditions including Marfan, Loeys-Dietz, and Vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndromes. Our vision is a world in which everyone with genetic aortic and vascular conditions can live their best life.