Despite traumatic childbirth injury, Jackson Abbott excelled as 3-sport star at Maplesville –

by pregnancy journalist

Is my baby alive?

That was the question Brad and Gina Abbott asked moments after the birth of their first child.

Baby Jackson Abbott wasn’t crying and appeared unable to move, and the delivery room became controlled chaos as doctors and nurses immediately rushed him to the neonatal intensive care unit.

“I didn’t think he was alive,” Gina Abbott said.

A tense, complicated delivery left Jackson “stunned” but alive, doctors later explained to the couple, only for the NICU staff to discover Jackson wasn’t moving his left arm. Doctors feared for his safety and had to use suction during the birth, a harrowing experience for his parents.

Today, more than 18 years later, it’s hard to believe Jackson, now a 6-foot-4 senior getting ready to play college football, is the same kid born with a damaged left arm.

Flip on Jackson Abbott’s high school highlights and it’s easy to see why he signed to play quarterback at West Alabama.

He fires a pass down the seam for a touchdown. He rockets an out pattern to the far hash. He breaks away from a blitzing linebacker, scrambles to his right and completes the pass. He launches a deep pass that a teammate cradles for another touchdown.

Jackson’s perseverance and ability to overcome his physical limitations explain why he’s the Class 1A, Region 3 winner in the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship Program’s Achievement category, which honors senior student-athletes who have overcome personal adversity to excel. All regional winners are awarded a $3,000 scholarship and could receive even more when statewide winners are announced at a statewide banquet.

A total of 104 seniors, 52 achievement and 52 scholar student-athlete recipients, will be honored at the 36th annual Bryant-Jordan Foundation Awards Banquet to be held at the Birmingham Sheraton Hotel ballroom beginning at 6 p.m. Monday.

Former Hoover High School and University of Alabama standout Marlon Humphrey, now in the NFL as a cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens, will be the keynote speaker at this year’s banquet. No tickets are available for this year’s event, but the event is being live-streamed by the Bryant-Jordan Foundation.

A cloudy future, a tough childhood

What most people don’t know, and something Jackson rarely talks about, is how his parents feared he’d never get to play, much less shine in athletics after his diagnosis of a brachial plexus injury, something most people have never heard of.

“What are we talking about?” Brad Abbott, now Maplesville’s head football coach, remembers asking. “Because it sounds serious.”

The brachial plexus is the network of nerves responsible for sending signals from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm and hand, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website. If those nerves are stretched, compressed, or torn away from the spinal cord, it can cause weakness, inability to use certain muscle or complete lack of movement and sensation in the arm.

The good news was Jackson didn’t suffer a brain injury during childbirth. The bad news was it appeared he couldn’t move his left arm. So, his family went to work, consulting with a medical team that included a neurologist, orthopedist, pediatrician and therapists. Jackson’s parents became his constant and his physical therapists. They helped him perform range-of-motion exercises during every diaper change. They made sure he wore a temporary cast each night to straighten his arm. They used electronic stimulation, a fancy term for electric shocks, on their young son’s arm and shoulder.

When he skipped crawling and began walking, the family had to “make” him learn to crawl as a way to build strength and mobility in his left arm.

All of it, it seemed, caused intense pain. “Nobody wants to make their baby cry,” Gina Abbott said. But the couple followed doctors’ orders. Gina Abbott recalls an early visit to Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham someone predicted her son would have “functional” use of left arm.

The meaning of ‘functional’

“I lost it,” Gina said. “I knew ‘functional’ means you’ll do something with it. That doesn’t mean normal use. It doesn’t mean optimal use. It sure doesn’t mean athletic use. “The doctors said, ‘You cannot let him forget he has that arm.’”

Jackson, of course, doesn’t remember the painful electric-shock sessions or the constant range-of-motion exercises. While his arm caused alarm for his parents, Jackson said he doesn’t recall it ever causing him a major problem.

He remembers going to Birmingham for physical therapy sessions as a preschooler. “I didn’t know why I was going,” he said. He also recalled a childhood beach trip in which he was scooping sand with only his right hand before a family member reminded him to use his left.

Measured at 22¾ inches and weighing more than 8 pounds at birth, Jackson has always been one of the biggest kids in his age group. He excelled on the T-ball field and nothing changed as he picked up basketball and football.

It wasn’t until middle school, when Jackson began lifting weights, that he understood he couldn’t do some of the same things his teammates could. “I just thought it was normal and everybody’s arm was like that,” Jackson said.

Learning different ways

While he became a three-sport standout, Jackson learned to do things like catch a ground ball with his weakened left hand or shoot a basketball.

“If I had to do something that involved both arms, it was kind of difficult,” he said. “I didn’t really notice what was wrong with my arm until I got older. I kind of adapt into it. I know my range of motion and how far my arm can go to do stuff. I just had to play with it.”

He said he had to constantly tinker with arm, his form, etc.

“I can look at mechanics of how to shoot a basketball, but I’m just not going to able to copy that,” he said. “I have to take what people taught me and change it so it fits how I’m able to perform with it.”

As he grew older and became a high school quarterback, many people never knew about his physical limitations. Sure, he couldn’t extend his left arm for a handoff to a running back or pitch the ball with his left hand on an option play, but he adapted. On the basketball court, he learned to snag rebounds by cupping the ball in his right hand.

His basketball shooting form looks like something out of a textbook, mainly because he can’t supinate, or turn or hold his left hand so the palm faces outward. “People say, ‘He has such beautiful technique,’” Brad Abbot said, “but he has no choice. His arm is always like that.”

Jackson has increasingly learned to use his left arm. He shot a few left-handed layups during his senior basketball season. He’s learned how to maneuver his glove at shortstop to make one-handed catches on ground balls.

He said he continues to force himself to do everyday things, like brushing his teeth or using a fork, with his left hand. “For me, doing stuff with my left arm feels un-natural. Most of the stuff you do, it’s supposed to be easy, but it’s difficult in my case,” he said. “Most people do things without thinking about it, but I have to actually think about it as I’m doing it.”

Jackson understands more adaptation will be needed in the future, especially as he chases playing time as a quarterback at West Alabama.

“I have accepted that my arm won’t get better, and I’ve accepted the fact I am limited,” the teen wrote in his essay for the Bryant-Jordan Scholarship. “But at the end of day, I am thankful that I am healthy. I am thankful that I am different. The difference has made me mature early, develop a strong work ethic, develop patience, work through adversity and be empathetic toward others who struggle.

“If given a choice, I wouldn’t change anything about my journey. As I have grown older, I realize the important of people knowing that it wasn’t ‘God-given talent’ but a ‘God-allowed circumstance’ that makes me the athlete and person I am today in a hope it will inspire others to find their unique pathways to success.”

This content was originally published here.

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