Baylor's Isaiah Austin Partners with the Marfan Foundation: 'I Feel Like It's My Calling'
07/12/2014 AT 03:40 PM EDT
The power forward was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome just days before the June 26 draft, ending his pro career before it started.
Now, he's decided to partner with the Marfan Foundation to help educate people about the condition that can cause a rupture to the heart's aortic artery during high-energy activities, such as playing basketball.
"To have all this dropped on me at the age of 20, five days before the draft, is something really tough that not a lot of people can deal with," Austin told PEOPLE, in advance of a press conference Saturday announcing his new role with the organization. "But I feel like because of this situation I owe it to people around the world to help spread the awareness of it so more people find out about it."
Marfan syndrome is a life-threatening genetic disorder that affects the body's connective tissue. "When I first got diagnosed, I had no idea exactly what it was," Austin said. "I'm still learning."
In his case, doctors noticed that he had an irregular heartbeat. "I really just thought they were going to say that I was really athletic, that I have a really athletic heart, and that that's the reason why they thought my heartbeat was irregular," he said. "But I'm glad that they found out the information that they did because it did save my life."
With his NBA dreams dashed, Austin plans to inspire in other ways. "I'm going to share my story with as many people as I can to help spread the awareness of Marfan syndrome and to help show people that no matter what obstacle that they're facing in their life, that they can get through it if they have positive energy and if they have faith in God," he said. "I really just want to share my testimony with as many people as I can."
As for the future, he's going back to Baylor to finish his studies. "One of my main priorities in my life right now is to get my degree," Austin told PEOPLE. "I always promised my family that I would do that. I feel like this is the right time."