When the sister of USC’s Austin Jackson needed a life-saving bone-marrow transplant, he didn’t hesitate to get tested even though it would affect his football career. He was a perfect match. ‘It was a miracle,’ he says.

When USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson walked into the doctor’s office, he knew he might be told it would be months before he’d regain his strength. That his training schedule would get turned inside out. That he’d spend a week in bed, with throbbing pain in his lower back.

That in time, he’d be OK, although even that wasn’t a certainty.

“I was excited,” Jackson said. “But most importantly, I just thanked God. It was a miracle.”

Football is important to him. Family is more important. Especially when it comes to life and death. That’s why Jackson was happy to put football on hold last summer.

Jackson’s younger sister, Autumn, has Diamond-Blackfan anemia, a rare genetic disorder preventing her bone marrow from producing red blood cells.

What Autumn’s bone marrow couldn’t get done, Austin’s could.

“My only hope,” she called her brother in a blog post.

There are 12 indicators doctors use to determine a donor match. Austin was a perfect 12.

“It was a long process,” Austin said at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. “I had to take the whole offseason to go home and be with her and train on my own. I couldn't afford to get sick. Otherwise the procedure would have been prolonged. I battled back through fall camp and through the season to gain my strength back.”

Whether he actually regained his strength even by the end of last season is questionable. Jackson admitted his biggest gains since the end of the season involve strength. Complicating matters is his bone marrow was drawn from his back, the muscles of which are “pretty crucial,” he said, toward offensive line play.

Jackson has met with the Dolphins. Some mock drafts say the Dolphins could land Jackson late in the first round since they own three picks in Round 1.

If the Dolphins take left-handed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with their top pick, Jackson might still be in play because he said he’d be comfortable at right tackle (Tagovailoa’s blind side) or left tackle. He has practiced on both sides in college.

Autumn, meanwhile?

“She's doing great,” he said. “She's making a full recovery. No symptoms. She had to undergo chemo and her hair's growing back. Doctors say her blood is producing at levels they've never seen.”

According to blog posts updating the condition of Autumn, now 18, she was given “three big bags of bone marrow” from the procedure. Apparently having been tipped off that she’s interested in a career in beauty, Sephora, the makeup chain, opened one of its stores early for her and told her to pick out anything she wanted in October, three months into her recovery.

When Austin meets with NFL teams, they ask about the 3 1/2-hour procedure, more so in a respectful manner than out of concern for the impact it might have on football, he said. Perhaps some teams consider it a plus, looking at it from the perspective of character and overcoming adversity.

“It’s the same thing that happens in a game,” he said. “If something happens that’s not in the game plan, you just have to respond.”

Jackson is modest about his act.

“I feel like everybody would have done it for their little sister or sibling,” he said.

There was an element of uncharted territory.

“The doctors that I’ve worked with never had a bone-marrow transplant patient return to football within a month after doing the procedure,” he said. “So I guess it was kind of a test run.”

It took time before he could attempt squats. A month into the season, he was just beginning to put weight on his back.

At the Combine, Jackson, who is 6-feet-5 and 322 pounds, still finished in the top eight among offensive linemen in the bench press (27 reps), vertical leap (31 inches) and 40 (5.07 seconds).

Austin is a bit of a natural in the sport. His grandfather, Melvin, was on USC’s 1974 national championship team and spent five seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

“I’m confident,” Austin said. “I come from a family of football players. This is what I've been working for. This was my dream since I was a kid, since I started playing football. And I'm ready.”

He hopes that when he runs of a tunnel onto an NFL field, Autumn can be there.

“Unfortunately, she couldn’t make any of my games this year because of the procedure,” he said. “So I’d be very happy.”

hhabib@pbpost.com

@gunnerhal

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