Jackson On the Way To Miraculous Recovery

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By Jim McGill, Staff Writer
Posted Jul 21, 2013
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


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Langston Jackson pictured with fellow former Cal running back Jahvid Best
Simi Valley running back Langston Jackson once had the world by the tail. A star athlete growing up and a multi-sport star at Simi Valley High, Jackson found himself struggling not just to win an athletic contest but rather a fight for his life after going into a coma in rehab in late March just four short months ago and nearly dying.
A smart, popular kid, Jackson wouldn't seem likely to fall prey to the drug that landed him in rehab -heroin- a drug that once epitomized the 70's junkie but the powerfully addictive and destructive drug has made a comeback in recent years, often in totally unexpected places like Simi Valley.
 
Former Simi Valley coach and current Chaminade Prep (West Hills, CA) athletic director Todd Borowsky knows Jackson and his family well and was as shocked as anyone with the road Jackson found himself on that nearly led to his death.  
 
"I think it's just one of those cyclical things that individual communities sometimes go through with different drugs," said Borowski. "Who knows what leads to it?
 
"When I heard heroin was involved, I was shocked, knowing Langston. But it can happen to anyone. Look at what happened with (former NFL quarterback) Erik Kramer's son (Griffen, a former Thousand Oaks High School quarterback), who died of a heroin overdose a couple years ago. It can happen to anyone.
 
"Langston was a great kid in high school. He's one of those coach's dream guys, you know? He worked as hard as anyone and did exactly what we wanted him to do. He put the team on his back and took care of it. 
 
"The whole family's great. His brother Loren played for me for one year, too."
 
Jackson's mother, Lyle, is a strong woman of faith and knew she didn't raise her son to go down the path he did, but as so many parents find out, outside influences and life circumstances often take kids in directions they never expected. 
 
"I'd say one of the first reactions is denial," said Jackson's mother, Lyle. "Nobody ever thinks it's going to happen to them but never say never."  
 
Piecing together what ended up culminating in his near-death experience, it appears that a combination of his life-of-the-party personality combined with spending time with the wrong people along with his frustration at not earning playing time in his time at Cal before his eventual dismissal for misconduct all played roles in Jackson's overuse of painkillers that eventually transitioned into heroin addiction. 
 
Former long-time Cal running backs coach and new UC Davis head coach Ron Gould was a mentor and father figure to Jackson and he, too, puzzled over what led him down his destructive path. 
 
"The players all really liked and respected Langston," said Gould. "He was also really a funny kid.
 
"In the meetings, he kept things light. He was a hard worker, too -super-competitive.
 
"He was fun to be around and he's always cared about other people."
 
"I think he was frustrated about not playing but he was working hard to get on the field," said Gould. "There's a great scripture in I Corinthians 15:33 that says, 'Do not be misled. Bad company corrupts good character.'
 
"You have to be wise about who you hang around with. We talked about all those things. I just think as much as he wanted to do right, I think he was still easily led astray.
 
"Everyone enjoyed being around him and the players admired how hard he worked on the field. He really busted his tail. He's a smart kid, too. He just made some bad decisions."
 
How Jackson even ended up Cal in the first place was the result of another major disappointment, with Jackson all set to play at Utah on scholarship out of high school, only to lose it at the last minute, leaving him scrambling come National Letter of Intent Day.
 
"Langston got hosed by Utah, big-time," said Borowski. "He had a full ride offered that they pulled at the last minute. He was supposed to fly out there the last weekend of the recruiting cycle where he was going to firm up his commitment. They told him they got a commitment from a linebacker and decided to give his scholarship to him instead. With it being so last minute, he didn't want to just go anywhere so he decided to take a preferred walk-on spot at Cal."
 
Jackson showed a lot of promise to fans who observed practice in his three years at Cal, with a hard-nosed running style that often earned him tough yards from the line of scrimmage, but the promise never resulted in playing time, leading to much disappointment from Jackson. 
 
Jumping fast forward three years, complicating the emotions behind Jackson's near-death experience was the fact that Langston nearly left behind twin brother Lorne -an inseparable pair that already had to cope with living 300 miles apart, with Lorne starring as a guard at Pepperdine and Langston attending Cal in Berkeley.

"It was hard, with me in Southern California and him and Northern California," said Lorne. "We were separated from each other for the most part for three years. We'd never really been apart for 18 years.
 
"He just hung out with the wrong people who weren't doing positive things. There wasn't much really anyone could do at the time. He's a grown man and he was going to make his own decisions.
 
"It was tough. I can't say it was a huge surprise because he tried some drugs and he drank some growing up, pushing the envelope some but you'd never think it would go as far as it did.
 
"I guess he got connected with some of the wrong people when he was in college and it got worse."
 
Langston and Lorne seemed destined for athletic greatness, with both usually being the best athletes on the field wherever they played. And while they were not immune to typical sibling rivalries, especially as twins, they were still nearly inseparable. 
 
"I played football with Langston all the way up through my sophomore year," said Lorne. "Going into my junior year, I was supposed to be the starting quarterback but I quit to focus on basketball.
 
"Langston got mad at me so he quit basketball.
 
"We definitely had a rivalry growing up. I'd win awards in basketball and he'd get all the awards in football. We were always competing with each other to see who could do better. Our childhood was very competitive so he had that built into him."
 
Technically, Lorne was Langston's older brother by a matter of minutes but the "younger" sibling didn't want to hear about being the younger of the two.
 
"I tried a little bit to play the older brother role," said Lorne. "But Langston's real hard-headed so he wasn't having that.
 
"He knows I'm his big brother, though. He always takes my advice. We've always been close and have always been best friends."  
 
Older brother Lorne could see the frustration building in his brother, even if he didn't know the outcome would lead down the treacherous path it did.  
 
 "When he was at Cal trying to play tailback, he had arguably one of the best running backs in the country playing in front of him, with Jahvid Best," said Lorne. "Then when Jahvid left, Shane (Vereen) stepped in and took over and he's playing in the NFL now, too. I'm sure that was frustrating for him sitting there for three years, not being able to play in a game. It probably just took it's toll, eventually." 
 
Jackson's sister Ashley has been front and center during the whole traumatic experience that nearly resulted in her losing her younger brother.
 
"He didn't think anything like that would ever happen to him," said Ashley. "He told me that, himself.
 
"He had almost complete liver and kidney failure and they wanted to pull the plug on him three different times. Based on his MRI, they said he'd always just be a vegetable and never wake up or be a human being."
 
One of the harder elements Jackson's sister Ashley went through during Langston's struggles was seeing the impact it had on her baby brother Lorne-8 years her junior- especially as a twin. 
 
"It effected him immensely," said Ashley. "When we were together in the room while he was still in a coma, he said, 'Ashley, I just don't think I could live without him,' and I just started crying. When he was on the ventilator, it was especially hard for him and my mom to see him, especially since he's usually so full of life and such a goofball. He's a great person so it's hard to see someone like him in a place where they're not even coherant." 
 
Though he'd experimented with drugs, a combination of a horrific car accident, where he wrapped his car around a tree after falling asleep at the wheel and the eventual prescription of pain meds to help recuperate from the accident where he remarkably came through with relatively minor injuries may have started Jackson down a darker path. 
 
"The heroin problem really started in the last year and a half," said Ashley. "That largely started from using prescription drugs, like Oxycontin. which gradually led him to heroin use. It's really prevalent in Simi Valley, where we grew up. You could tell when he came home one time.
 
"The doctor's at Cal didn't prescribe him Oxy. They prescribed him Soma (Carisoprodol). I think he just got into a depressive state because of a lot of different things. Being a collegiate athlete and not having things end up the way you expect them to as they always had all the way back since Pop Warner can be hard."
 
As has often been the case, prescription drugs became the gateway to the much cheaper and more readily-available drug of choice, heroin.
 
"The ironic thing is that everyone has been saying that Langston overdosed on heroin," said Ashley. "But that actually wasn't the case. "It was actually a multi-functional overdose, not heroin, per the toxicology report.
 
"He was already in a drug treatment facility and they were giving him Suboxone and other meds to counteract and detox the drugs in his system and the anxiety.
 
"His roommate brought something in and gave it to him so we don't know if that combined with the other drugs caused it or what because we still haven't been able to talk to him.
 
"Langston ended up going into a non-responsive state for five hours before the the paramedics came. It happened at 3:00 in the morning. They're supposed to do hourly checks and they clearly didn't. They tried to wake him up for morning call at 7:30 and he was non-responsive so that's when they called the paramedics.
 
"They tried to do the standard procedures for heroin overdoses and that didn't work, which backs up what the toxicology reports said."
  
Weeks into Jackson's hospitalization, few but the family had any hope for his eventual recovery, with his prognosis so grim that his lead physician counseling that it would be best to take him off life support since the odds of him even being able to speak in the future, let alone live a normal life, seemed minute.
 
Then one day, the situation took a major turn for the positive.
 
"Langston was still in a coma state, with his eyes open but no brain function," said Ashley. "I went to get him ice and touched it to his lips and he opened his mouth after six weeks of no response of any kind.
 
"I put it in his mouth and he started chewing so I ran outside to go get the nurses and was so excited.
 
"The next day, he was able to communicate that he was hungry and wanted food, like a true athlete, because he'd lost 75 pounds. He's already gained 45 pounds back. He was 215 when he got in there and got all the way down to 139. They want to get him up to 195." 
 
The recovery was rapid from there, with Jackson making recovery steps all but unimaginable to all the medical staff that had examined him to that point in time. His recovery took leaps forward again with a trip home for the day to spend the 4th of July holiday with his family.  
 
"His first day pass was on the 4th of July," said Ashley. "My mom had the wheelchair in her car but he walked the entire way. He was laughing and clowning like the old Langston.
 
"He speaks normally now."
 
"There's no medical explanation for how he's made this recovery. As far as we're all concerned, this is all about God answering our prayers."
 
Lest there be any doubts about the veracity of the Jackson's story, Langston's amazing recovery has been chronicled by the BBC in a documentary on end of life decisions that will air in a matter of months. 
 
"The BBC has been filming him from the beginning as part of a documentary filming various ER cases in ICU," said Ashley.
 
"Everything I'm telling you about the doctors saying he'd never come back, did we want to pull the plug and would he really want to live like this? is all on film.
 
"My response to the doctor was, 'Langston's a fighter. He's always been a fighter. He just loves life. He would not want us to give up on him because he never gave up on himself, whatever he was going through in life.'
 
"I told her I wasn't trying to discredit her medical experience because she was the head doctor in ICU, however, God is our ultimate doctor and I don't think my brother is going to leave us just yet.'
 
"My mom and I talk about all the time how we just had a peace during this whole situation.
 
"The first time we were in there with the BBC cameras, the doctor said he wouldn't pull through. That put me in a constant state of prayer. I needed to be a rock to my family and God just provided me with a peace that's hard to explain. I knew Langston was going to be okay.
 
"The next time we met with the doctor, she said again that their's nothing that they could do to bring him back and again recommended that we pull the plug but I just knew that the Lord wouldn't deceive me and that he'd be okay.
 
"Then when he started to recover, the doctors said all the individual things he was doing that made it look like he was recovering were just a reflex but we told them that he was doing things that were unique to him and that he was genuinely recovering.
 
"The BBC people told us they'd never seen a miracle in any of their documentaries but they're sure they've seen one here with Langston.
 
"When I sent some pictures of Langston with us on 4th of July celebrating to one of the producers, she was just crying with me on the phone.
 
"Another guy named Nigel, who did the interviews with families on how they cope with end of life decisions saw how calm I was during the process and asked what it was that made me feel that way and asked if it was our faith. He wondered how I could be so calm when, even if he lived, he'd be brain dead, but I told him that wasn't going to happen and that there's nothing that God can't do.
  
"When he came in and saw Langston talk for the first time and asked him who I was and he said, 'My sister,' he was shocked. I said, 'Nigel, now do you believe in prayer?'
 
"We had a candlelight prayer vigil in Simi Valley the week he almost died and you have to know that helped, too." 
 
Langston's brother Lorne, who after ending his successful career at Pepperdine, was just signed with the Washington Wizards to their summer league team, concurred. 
 
"It's been a miracle, really" said Lorne. "Just that he's been able to fight through everything he's been through and get to the point he's at now has been amazing. It's very inspiring for everyone that's known Langston and about his situation, that miracles really do happen.
 
"You just can never give up. We can always be in worse positions we're in now but staying positive and trusting God makes a difference." 
 
As he's on the rapid road to recovery just a few months beyond his brush with death, the competitive fire of a lifelong athlete is fueling the grueling rehab Jackson continues to push through in his recuperation.
 
"I think the the strenuous regimen you have to go through as an athlete -he's applied that same willpower in his rehab," said Ashley. "There are times when the doctors would leave on Friday and come back on Monday just amazed at the progress he's made over the weekend, with us continuing to work with him. They say they've never seen anyone recuperate at quickly as he has."
 
Though Jackson is able to speak fairly normally and has made tremendous progress, it was clear that the vivacious Jackson still is in the healing process, as he spoke somewhat slowly and briefly in our conversation. 
 
"I feel really good about the progress I've made," said Jackson. "The MRI results just came back completely normal. That's a miracle. Little by little, my strength and everything is coming back to me. They have me walking every day and doing weight training and balance stuff.
 
"My family has been there for me from the beginning. I've had someone with me every day."  
 
Following his departure from Cal in 2012, Jackson took classes at Pierce and Moorpark Junior Colleges and had applied to Cal State Northridge, Cal State Dominguez and Chico State, with two acceptance letters coming in while he was in rehab.
 
A history major at Cal, Jackson would like to get a degree involving music production.
 
Beyond the degree, Jackson would also like to be an anti-drug advocate to help others avoid the pitfalls he went through himself.
 
"After he had the accident, he wasn't supposed to survive," said Ashley. "The paramedics and police said they'd never seen anyone walk away from an accident like his. His car was an accordian. If he didn't hit the pole, he would've gone into a concrete wall so the pole probably actually saved him.
 
"So Langston's been saved twice. I told him he can't live life the way he lived life before. It's about really helping people out, whether it's athletes or students. Other athletes make mistakes, too."
 
In a world where stories often don't have similar happy endings, Jackson's story can give encouragement to families struggling through similar situations. And if lives can be changed and even saved as a result of the positive message he can bring to others, Langston and his family will be the first to tell you all his trials and travails will have all been worth it in the end, for the sturdy Golden Bear.
  
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