RONNY TURIAF AND JEFF GREEN PART OF SMALL BROTHERHOOD
The surgical scar runs about 10 inches up the middle of Jeff Green’s sternum, stopping where the tips of his clavicles meet below his neck.
Ronny Turiaf has one, too; his scar older, but no less haunting.
Turiaf and Green are two of six players in NBA history, including Green’s Celtics teammate and former Clippers first round draft pick Chris Wilcox, to undergo open heart surgery during their playing careers. They make up a small brotherhood in a large global fraternity of open heart surgery survivors.
Green was diagnosed with an aortic root aneurysm in December 2011, six and a half years after Turiaf was discovered to have a similar condition. The Clippers’ benevolent big man heard about Green and said he knew “every single moment” that he would go through.
“When I heard about it, that it he was going to be out for a while and that he had to undergo open heart surgery I just reached out to him,” Turiaf said. “You always need someone to be able to talk to you and tell what to expect.
“It’s big fraternity, the open heart surgery survivors. But we try to stick with each other because it’s a tough process.”
For Green, the process started with undergoing surgery as soon as possible for a problem that affects more than 15,000 adults in the United States each year. According to the Center for Disease Control, an aortic aneurysm is a ballooning or dilatation of the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart through the chest and abdomen.
Green was 25 when he found out he suffered from the condition and despite four healthy NBA seasons, everything in his life became abruptly uncertain.
He told the Boston Globe that he was among those who doubted whether or not he would ever play again. The support from people like Turiaf, though, served as a reminder that a return to the game that made him the No. 5 overall selection in the 2007 Draft remained possible.
“Ronny was there from the get-go,” Green said. “Plus, he was in D.C. (playing for the Wizards) at the time and that’s where I’m from, so I saw him at a game and we chatted for a little bit. I’m thankful to him for reaching out.”
Turiaf talked to Green before undergoing the surgery, which can last several hours, and again afterwards. And while Turiaf did not speak to Green with the same frequency he did with former NBA heart-surgery survivors Fred Hoiberg or Etan Thomas, a special connection was formed nonetheless.
“[Our relationship] grew when he reached out to me,” Green said. “Because for somebody to do that I’m thankful. It was a tough process, but he just coached me for what I was going to go through, what to expect, how the days were going to go, how the recovery period is and I thank him a lot for that.”
Turiaf knew about the headaches, the complications, the problems. Turiaf knew what it was like to work back from laying in a hospital bed with tubes protruding from his chest, abdomen and groin, a breathing mask affixed to his nose and mouth, and a bandage tightened around his rib cage. And knew what lie ahead as Green would attempt to overcome long odds to return to NBA level fitness. Still, Turiaf did not ask for details. He just offered support.
“You don’t need to know,” Turiaf said. “You don’t need to ask for details. You don’t need to get too much into detail. The funny thing is you don’t have a problem talking about it. But sometimes when I had to think about it too much in a precise manner it brought up bad feelings.”
As Green recovered, they maintained contact through text messages and on Dec. 27 they faced each other on an NBA court for the first time since Green returned to the Celtics after surgery and the arduous recovery process cost him all of last season.
The two were on the court together again in the second quarter of Boston’s 106-104 win on Feb. 3, a game in which Green scored 14 points off the bench and made all three of his 3-pointers in 23 minutes. Turiaf played sparingly, grabbing four rebounds and committing two fouls in six minutes. Those numbers, however, mattered little.
“In this profession to come back from it, I mean, it’s only about five or six guys that have gone through it and been able to come back and still play, especially at the level that we play at,” Green said. “It is a brotherhood. We share something in common that most people don’t go through that most people don’t endure. It’s special to see one another out there playing hard and having fun. Life was almost taken from us and to see each other out there playing is a remarkable thing.”