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TURIAF'S CAREER IN JEOPARDY CONDITION WILL REQUIRE OPEN-HEART SURGERY.

Byline: Ross Siler Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO - A little more than a month after being cleared by doctors at the NBA's pre-draft camp, Lakers forward Ronny Turiaf has been found to have a potentially life-threatening condition that will require open heart surgery and could end his career before he ever plays a regular-season game.

The Lakers said Turiaf, a second-round pick out of Gonzaga in last month's NBA Draft, has been diagnosed with an enlarged aortic root. The 22-year-old forward had been held out of the Lakers' final four summer-league games during the past week, fueling speculation about his health.

In making the announcement, Lakers spokesman John Black said doctors told the team Turiaf was facing a 75 percent chance of having a ``serious episode, potentially fatal episode, just through everyday living,'' within three to four years without surgery.

``Naturally there's some disappointment from us that he won't be able to play,'' Black said Thursday night. ``He was a player that we liked. We thought he'd go in the first round. We were happy to get him (in the second round).

``But we also feel very fortunate that our doctors found this when they did. My understanding of it is this was a potentially fatal situation and by our doctors finding this, we believe we saved his life.''

The aorta is the major artery supplying blood to the body. An enlargement of the aortic root, which attaches the aorta to the heart, could lead to a potentially fatal rupture or dissection if not corrected.

Turiaf's condition is not similar to the arrhythmia that led to the deaths of basketball players Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis. Instead, Black said doctors compared it to the aortic tear that killed actor John Ritter without warning in September 2003.

Turiaf, who did not return messages Thursday, will address the media this morning. The Lakers said Turiaf will undergo surgery sometime in the next four to six weeks.

If Turiaf needs to have his aortic valve replaced, Black said he likely would not play again. The best-case scenario for Turiaf would be for him to sit out for at least a year, Black said. Turiaf can expect a full and healthy life with successful surgery.

The Lakers announced last week that Turiaf had signed a contract, the first year of which was believed to be guaranteed. Turiaf was one of the first second-round picks to be signed, an indication of how highly the Lakers thought of him.

That contract was contingent on Turiaf passing a physical, however, and the Lakers now believe it is void, Black said. The Lakers still would like to retain Turiaf's rights.

``The league may look at it different,'' Black said. ``We haven't had that question answered yet.''

Turiaf twice has been found to have a heart abnormality but was cleared to play both times, Black said. The first time came during his teenage years after he moved from Martinique to France. The second time came by doctors at the NBA's pre-draft camp in Chicago last month.

It was on that basis that the Lakers took Turiaf with the No. 37 pick. But team doctor John Moe found the situation more serious when Turiaf was examined last week. The Lakers referred Turiaf to three cardiologists after Moe, all of whom agreed he could not be cleared.

Black was asked Thursday if the Lakers were frustrated with doctors at the Chicago camp for clearing Turiaf.

``Naturally we wish that they would have seen it the way our doctors found it,'' Black said. ``It would have made a difference. But we don't want to point fingers at anybody on this. We feel fortunate that it was found when it was. The important thing was it probably saved this kid's life.''

Turiaf was not known to have any health problems during his collegiate career at Gonzaga, where he was the West Coast Conference Player of the Year last year as a senior. Black, meanwhile, said he spoke with Turiaf shortly before the Lakers made their 7 p.m. announcement.

``He's obviously disappointed, and I think it's safe to say that he's concerned and anxious and a little scared that he's going to have to undergo open heart surgery,'' Black said. ``I think his state now, after having sunk in a little bit, is he's optimistic about it and hopeful for his future.''

Turiaf averaged 14 points and 4.5 rebounds for the Lakers' summer-league team. He had been counted on to play a significant role as a rookie, especially if the Lakers were to waive forward Brian Grant as part of a one-time luxury-tax amnesty provision.

Ross Siler, (818) 713-3610

ross.siler(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) Lakers' 2005 second-round pick Ronny Turiaf has been diagnosed with an enlarged aortic root.

(2) The Lakers' Ronny Turiaf (21) will undergo open heart surgery in four to six weeks.

Edna T. Simpson/Daily News

Box:

THE CONDITION

- SOURCE: WEB MD
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 22, 2005
Words:830
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