Sports

Nothing slows determined Jackson

Brookswood Bobcats’ Tayla Jackson (with ball) drives to the basket during her team’s game against Oak Bay earlier this season. Jackson underwent a heart repair as a young child (photo below) to correct a defect called patent ductus arteriosus when she was less than three months old. - Gary Ahuja/Langley Times
Brookswood Bobcats’ Tayla Jackson (with ball) drives to the basket during her team’s game against Oak Bay earlier this season. Jackson underwent a heart repair as a young child (photo below) to correct a defect called patent ductus arteriosus when she was less than three months old.
— image credit: Gary Ahuja/Langley Times

Tayla Jackson cuts an imposing figure.

Jackson, who turns 17 in May, stands 6’2” and is one of the province’s dominant female basketball players.

Since she began at Brookswood Secondary four years ago as a Grade 8 student, Jackson has been a key member of the Bobcats senior girls basketball team, helping them to a pair of fourth-place finishes and a second-place finish the past three years at the B.C. Triple-A high school senior girls provincial championships.

Now in Grade 11, Jackson has spent her high school years playing against competition that may be older, but not necessarily tougher, especially considering just where she has come from.

Jackson looks like a perfect picture of health with her long, lean athletic frame.

But there is more to the story.

•••••

Tayla Jackson was born in May, 1997at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

“The hardest part was she was born perfect and then all of a sudden, she was severely jaundiced and we had to go back to the hospital,” explained her mom Trina.

She was kept over the weekend and doctors discovered a heart murmur.

It meant a visit to B.C. Children’s Hospital a couple of weeks later where an xray revealed patent ductus arteriosus, also known as PDA.

The ductus arteriosus, a blood passageway that normally closes after birth, fails to close properly, causing too much blood to flow to the lungs. The severity of the problem depends on how large the opening is and how premature the baby is. Medications now exist to either close (or keep open) the ductus arteriosus. If, however, these medications do not work, procedures or surgeries are required.

The condition is more common in premature babies, but Jackson was full-term.

“I came in thinking we have jaundice and I left saying ‘oh my God, my baby is falling apart,’” Trina said.

“It was a pretty scary time.”

There was a chance the hole would heal on its own, but when that didn’t happen, surgery was necessary.

At 10 weeks of age, the doctors at B.C. Children’s Hospital cut into her back and went through her lung to repair her heart.

•••••

“It is definitely something I think about once in a while,” said Jackson, adding people are especially curious when they saw the long scar on her back.

“Sort of this fascination with the fact that you have gone through this big trauma,” she said. “I have never looked at it as a big trauma. To me, it is almost like I was born with the scar.”

“It is kind of cool, because it is something special about me,” she added.

While this condition is more prevalent with premature babies, it is rarely seen in full-term babies.

The chances of a full-term baby being born with this condition are two out of 1,000 babies, Jackson said.

“So it is really rare (and) I think it gives me a little bit of my special edge,” she said.

“A little bit of the fighter in me comes from my heart surgery.”

Her mom agrees.

“She always had this spark,” Trina said.

“And I think this is how she got her determination.”

•••••

The decision to focus on basketball came when Jackson was in the seventh grade. Up until then, she had also done track and volleyball, as well as drumming lessons.

“I just thought basketball was going to get me the furthest, especially with my height,” she said. Jackson was near her current height when she began attending high school. “And I enjoyed it.”

But instead of playing with students her own age — where she would have quite likely dominated the competition — Jackson was bumped up to the senior girls team under long-time coach Neil Brown.

“I was able to play on a team that had quite a bit of success as well as learn the game from a coach such as Mr. Brown, who knows so much about the game. He was able to push me out of my comfort zone all the time,” she said.

“That really helped me develop as a player.”

“I love challenges; I love constantly not knowing what is going to happen next,” Jackson added.

“I felt every year, playing for Mr. Brown, my role changes. Your presence and your role on the team changes.”

Jackson was also able to soak information in from her teammates, some of whom were five years her senior, about how to act, not just as a high school student, but as a young girl.

Jackson has excelled outside of high school basketball as well.

In her Grade 7 year, she was cut from the Summer Games team, which “broke her heart,” she said.

But that heartbreak didn’t slow her as the next summer, she made the provincial U15 team, which spurred her on.

“That was a big confidence booster for me and really motivated me,” she said.

“Things can change and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. So I just kept pushing and pushing and I was able to make the U17 team when I was U15.”

She was also a late cut last year of the Canadian cadet (U16) national team.

With one more year of high school still, Jackson continues to work towards her goal of earning a scholarship, playing for her country, and then perhaps, one day professionally.

“I have no idea what is going to happen in the future,” she said. “Nothing is a given. All I know is that I love the game and I want to keep playing it and wherever it takes me is where I am going to go.”

“I think the Tayla you see now is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Brown.

“She has a huge upside.

“She has to decide what she wants out of basketball, set a course for success and go take whatever she wants.

“Nobody can stop her except herself.”

•••••

February is heart awareness month and according to information from the Heart and Stroke Foundation website, about one out of every 100 babies born has some form of heart defect, which represents about one per cent of births.

These heart defects range from a tiny hole in the heart that will never require treatment, to the more serious ones which require surgery.

In Canada, there are almost 100,000 adults who, as children, had surgery to correct congenital heart defects.

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