September 5, 2019

Matters of the Heart

Rachael Jackman chose UWS because it "felt like home," and it's close to her family and physicians. She hopes to use her experience of having open heart surgery to help others.

Rachael Jackman chose UWS because it "felt like home," and it's close to her family and physicians. She hopes to use her experience of having open heart surgery to help others.

From open heart surgery to her first day of college, Rachael Jackman has come a long way

Rachael Jackman

Rachael Jackman was a busy, energetic junior at Superior High School when her life took an unexpected turn. She noticed something was wrong when her feet and legs began turning a bluish-purple color. At first, she thought she was just cold, but nothing seemed to warm her up.

“One day, I sent my mom a picture of my legs and she got really worried,” said Rachael. “But, I was still convinced it was nothing and that maybe I had just been standing too long or something.”

Unfortunately, Rachael’s symptoms kept worsening and soon she began blacking out randomly, with no memory of what had happened.

A lifesaving ‘happenstance’

Eventually, her mom took her to the emergency room at a Duluth hospital, where a visiting specialist from Mayo just happened to be there that day. By coincidence, he looked at her echocardiogram results, and immediately recognized that something was wrong. Rachael credits him for jumpstarting the process that saved her life.

From that moment on, she was swept up into a dizzying flurry of doctor appointments and tests, resulting in the diagnosis of Atrial Septal Defect, a quarter-sized hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of her heart. Doctors said if it had gone undetected, she would have died within a year or two.

Rachael remembers the date of her open heart surgery like her own birthday – August 8, 2018. “I was actually more scared of the IV than the surgery,” she laughed. Rachel credits her sister for ‘keeping things real’ and lighthearted that day, as she sarcastically told the doctors, “I doubt you’ll even find a heart in there!”

Fast forward to UWS

Two years later, Rachael is now in her first days as a student at UW-Superior. Her procedure went so well, doctors called it a ‘miracle surgery’ and aside from a minor infection, her recovery has gone smoothly and she has returned to normal activities, aside from a few restrictions.

Her positive attitude and determined nature have already captured the attention of faculty, staff and fellow students at UWS, and most would never guess that she has been through a major surgery.

“I wanted to stay close to home for college to be near my family and physicians,” she said. “But, the main reason I chose UWS is because it felt like home. Everyone here is so helpful and friendly. I thought about going to another larger school nearby, but this just felt like a better fit.”

Paying it forward

Following her surgery, Rachael wanted to find a way to benefit others who had faced serious heart conditions and found the perfect opportunity when it came time for her senior project at Superior High School. As the team manager for the boys’ hockey team, Rachel got an idea one day and thought, “If they can Pink the Rink for breast cancer, why not Red the Rink for heart disease?” With help from the head boys’ hockey coach Jason Kalin, the Superior hockey team, and the ‘hockey moms,’ the event raised more than $3,000 for the American Heart Association.

Rachael said her experience has taught her many things that she believes will serve her well in college.

“I am better now at keeping things in perspective,” she said. “I guess I just appreciate the little things more and I’ve learned to never take your health for granted.”

While she’s still undecided about her major, Rachael said she wants to be an advocate for people and causes she believes in, and plans to make the most of every opportunity. No one here at UWS has any doubt that she will do just that.

Rachael Jackman chose UWS because it "felt like home," and it's close to her family and physicians. She hopes to use her experience of having open heart surgery to help others.

Rachael Jackman chose UWS because it "felt like home," and it's close to her family and physicians. She hopes to use her experience of having open heart surgery to help others.

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