Austin Jackson wants to lead Southern California back to the Pac-12 title, but the left tackle already scored a bigger victory when he donated bone marrow to his younger sister, Autumn, last month.
Jackson said the transplant to treat his sister’s Diamond-Blackfan anemia, a genetic condition that causes bone marrow to not produce red blood cells, seems to be working.
“We found out about a week ago that her body is beginning to accept it,” Jackson said Friday night after the Trojans opened training camp. “She’s doing great. She was supposed to be in the hospital for about three months. She was engrafted, which means her body accepted the cells, and so she got sent home a month earlier.”
Jackson underwent tests last summer that found his bone marrow was a perfect 12-point match for his sister, who has received blood transfusions every three weeks since the age of 12. He had no hesitation about agreeing to become a donor, he said, a decision made before doctors informed him doing so would present no risk to his promising football career.
“It’s my baby sister, you know,” Jackson said. “Just growing up, being the older brother, you’re told to protect your little sister.”
Jackson spent the past few months at home in Phoenix waiting for doctors to clear Autumn for the procedure, which was originally scheduled for June.
Jackson’s portion lasted 3½ hours, during which he had bone marrow extracted from his pelvic bone. He was back at home that night but was restricted in his movements for 10 days. It was two to three more weeks before Jackson could resume training for his junior season.
Having recovered enough to be back at practice as USC started preparations for its season opener against Fresno State on Aug. 31, Jackson participated in the first half of the workout, including individual drills. Drew Richmond, a graduate transfer who started 25 games in three seasons at Tennessee, replaced Jackson during the portion of practice he missed.
USC coach Clay Helton expects to be cautious with Jackson through the early portion of training camp, though he was pleased with the level of fitness showed by the 6-foot-6, 310-pound lineman.
Jackson acknowledged it was difficult to “start my life back up” and return his focus to football after putting so much effort into his sister’s recovery, but it was something he had to do after receiving such unconditional support from Helton and his USC teammates.
“My family told me to trust that my sister is going to be OK,” Jackson said. “They are going to take care of her. So now my job is to hold down the left side and win a championship.”
For Jackson, there is no reason to complain about adversity on the football field after seeing what Autumn has faced.
“She’s a fighter,” Jackson said. “She’s really tough. There are countless stories of stuff that could have gone wrong, stuff that did go wrong, but she fought through it all.”