One of the first things doctors told Jackson Lindquist’s parents when he was born with a complex congenital heart defect was that it shouldn’t keep him from living an active, happy life. Doctors did note, however, that the defect — tetralogy of Fallot with absent pulmonary valve — would likely keep Jackson from “becoming an Olympic-caliber athlete.”
It hasn’t, however, kept him from achieving an impressively high level of athletic success. In fact, in a recent story for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, special projects reporter Eric Lindquist (who happens to be Jackson’s father) writes that Jackson recently played in his “third consecutive” Wisconsin state high school tennis tournament and is now “gearing up” to continue his competitive tennis career in college.
It’s a reality and future that Eric and his wife, Susan, a communications specialist for Mayo Clinic, had trouble envisioning when doctors first found “something amiss with his heart” during a routine ultrasound four weeks ahead of Jackson’s due date. “That night, an ambulance took his mother to the Twin Cities so the birth could occur in a hospital with immediate access to higher level diagnostic technology than was then available in Eau Claire,” Eric writes. “I followed in a car, wondering with each mile what the future would hold for my second child.”
Jackson’s immediate future, his parents learned, would include a series of surgeries to repair the deficiencies caused by his heart defect. Deficiencies, Eric writes, that included “a hole between the two ventricles, an enlarged pulmonary artery, a misplaced aorta, a thickened right ventricular wall, and a missing pulmonary valve” that prevented a sufficient amount of oxygenated blood from reaching Jackson’s body.
Jackson’s first open-heart surgery took place in Minneapolis when he was just 5 months old. Eric and Susan then moved his care to Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus where, Eric writes, “subsequent surgeries, each to replace a surgically implanted pulmonary valve that no longer was working properly,” took place when Jackson was 2, 9, and 15 years old.
And while each procedure came with its own set of fears, concerns, and challenges, Jackson tells us there’s been one constant along the way: Allison Cabalka, M.D., who in addition to being Jackson’s pediatric cardiologist “since birth,” is also a family friend. Despite that personal connection, however, Jackson tells us Dr. Cabalka “keeps things real” whenever she talks to him about his health. “She’s always been great to me,” he says. “She’s very straightforward about things, but in a caring way.”
That caring straightforwardness, Jackson says, has been there from the beginning. “Early on, she just said, ‘This kind of thing happens, we don’t know why, and we just need to make the most out of it,’” Jackson says.
And if you read the rest of the story, you’ll see that’s something Jackson certainly appears to be doing.
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