The week leading up to the 2010 Turkey Tussle we were looking for stories to include in our special magazine edition. One story that I was excited to report about was that of Austin Lacy, a senior transfer from Bishop Amat who returned to his roots in Pasadena to play for the Bulldogs after undergoing open heart surgery. I had the opportunity to interview Lacy and came away very impressed with this young man’s sheer determination and sincere demeanor. He was a delight to interview, to say the least, the kind of athlete that gave you really great quotes, which is rare when interviewing high school athletes in any sport. I was more impressed with Lacy’s determination to look at life in a positive outlook than his determination to become the player he used to be. He exhibited signs of the kind of man who would excel at anything he put his mind into. He didn’t want anything to hold him back, and he fought for the chance to prove he could accomplish a goal he set out to do, such as taking on an engineering major at either Arizona State or Georgia Tech. He had a bright wide-eyed smile, was personalbe, friendly, kind, respectful and full of life. It’s sometimes a wonder why someone with so much potential and life could leave this Earth so early in life. I’ll always remember his fun demeanor and I’ll always remember his will to power through anything that life threw at him. May he rest in peace. — Miguel Melendez
By Thomas Himes, Staff Writer
A standout football player and senior at Pasadena High School died Friday after a yearlong battle with a rare illness that baffled his doctors.
Austin Lacy fought the illness until the very end, surviving cardiac arrest twice over the past several days.
But at 11:12 a.m. Friday, in a Maryland hospital, his family members told doctors to disconnect the life support system that had kept air flowing to his lungs since Tuesday, said his mother, Karen Rogers.
“We had to make the decision,” Rogers said. “We didn’t want him to suffer anymore.”
The underlying cause of Lacy’s death was a rare form of cancer known as mesothelioma.
The aggressive disease is most common among industrial workers who inhaled asbestos – a mineral used in building material that was outlawed in the late 1970s.
Word of Lacy’s death spread through the student body at Pasadena High School within hours.
Lacy’s teammate, Armon Easley, was one of a number of students who took to social networking sites to express his condolences.
“He was a leader. He was somebody to look up to,” Easley said.
“When I was on the field and down, he would always encourage me to play harder and make up for it on the next play,” said Easley who played linebacker alongside Lacy.
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The outpouring of emotions prompted Principal Gilbert Barraza to make an announcement over the school’s loud speaker.
After the declaration, students turned out in droves to write well-wishes and sign their names to a giant card that was placed in the school’s gymnasium.
“Kids are pouring their hearts out,” Barraza said. “The more that they write out, the better they’ll feel.”
In Maryland, Lacy’s mother managed to keep her spirits high, under what she described as a picturesque sky.
“It’s just absolutely beautiful today,” Rogers said. “I can’t feel bad right now. He’s in a better place.”
Lacy and his mother flew to Maryland on Sunday to seek out an experimental treatment at the National Institute of Health.
But Lacy collapsed Tuesday, halfway through testing to determine whether he was eligible for the new form of chemotherapy.
Doctors told Rogers that they would be surprised if he lived through the night – of course they didn’t know Lacy.
The teen had been plagued with health problems ever since March of last year when his heart stopped during a medical procedure to drain fluid from his chest.
Despite the life-threatening condition, and the undiagnosed cancer that led to it, Lacy battled back to play football at Pasadena High School in his senior year.
“He didn’t seem to get down too much. He just persevered. And
Pasadena High School football team starter Austin Lacy, Sr., LB, for the Turkey Tussle in Pasadena, Monday, Nov., 1, 2010. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Eric Reed/SPORTS) (Eric Reed)those things are what helped him fight back from his illness,” said Bishop Amat coach Steve Hagerty, who coached Lacy during his junior year.
No matter how hard Lacy worked, he just couldn’t get back to the form that led scouts and coaches to speculate he would go to a NCAA Division I college program.
“Almost every other day we would go out after practice and work out, because he knew he wasn’t where he was before he was hurt, so he was trying to get back there,” Easley said.
Lacy had set his sights on playing football at West Los Angeles College next year, hoping another year of recovery would earn him an offer from a top college program.
In April, however, the shortness of breath and fatigue returned, along with the fluid in his chest.
Lacy was hospitalized five times in May, as local doctors struggled to diagnosis the illness.
Then, a few weeks ago, the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., discovered that Lacy was suffering from mesothelioma – a disease primarily caused by long-term exposure to asbestos.
The revelation shocked family members.
“This is a disease people who worked in coal mines get,” Rogers said.
But not even the grim diagnosis could get Lacy down.
The teen, who was known to give coaches respected advice on which plays to call and which to avoid, told his mom that he would become a coach, if he couldn’t play.
Even as tumors filled his chest, pressing against his heart to the point that it restricted his blood flow and made his hands and feet cold, Lacy hoped for the best.
“He’s never complained,” Rogers said. “He only broke down once and said, `I can’t do this.’ And I told him I would do it for him and be his strength, and he said, `no, I’m OK, mom.”‘