HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - During perhaps one of the greatest eras of University of Hawaii football, Nate Jackson was one of the program’s biggest stars.
With his long hair flowing out of his helmet, the undersized free safety was a fan favorite for years under head coach June Jones.
Jackson earned second team All-WAC selections in his junior and senior seasons, from 1998-2001.
His play on the field eventually led to a tryout with the NFL following his senior season.
Jackson’s life and athletic career were thriving until 2002 when Jackson contracted staph infection. That’s when everything changed.
“I had just came home from training camp with the Tennessee Titans," said Jackson. “I just felt like I was getting sick with flu symptoms. It just got worse and worse and next thing you know I’m in the hospital. That’s when they found out that the staph had attached itself to the mitral valve.”
The mitral valve is an essential component of the heart that helps regulate blood flow.
Following Jackson’s surgery in 2003, he led an active lifestyle, coaching his children on football and baseball fields across Hawaii.
Eight months ago, he began training for a hunting trip in the mainland when he noticed something wasn’t right.
“I was trying to get into shape to do a few things was coming up," said Jackson. "I didn’t realize it at the time that my heart was actually telling me, something was wrong, and in December I had the stroke.”
After undergoing medical tests, Jackson was informed the valve was severely deteriorated and he’d need to have heart surgery again in the coming weeks.
“They’re going to go in an change the valve out," said Jackson. "They’ll put in another valve to replace the one they replaced 17 years ago.”
To help the family with medical expenses, Jackson’s longtime friend Larry Cambra is orchestrating a fundraiser for Jackson following the surgery.
“When you meet Nate you become friends with him and you realize he has a big heart," said Cambra. "He would do anything for you, so it’s kind of cruel irony that it’s his heart that’s giving him trouble.”
Despite the recovery process that lies ahead, Jackson is confident he’ll be OK no matter what comes.
“I feel good," said Jackson. "I’m not too worried about it because I been through it once and I feel confident in the doctors and they’re going to give me the best chance.”