Jamacia Jackson played football and maintained a physically active lifestyle with a heart condition the former South Carolina safety never realized he had.
An autopsy performed Tuesday revealed Jackson died of an irregular heartbeat caused by an enlarged heart, Sumter County coroner Verna Moore said.
Moore said the autopsy showed the 26-year-old Jackson likely had the condition for years — a finding that came as news to Jackson’s parents.
“When (Moore) told me it was an enlarged heart, I’m saying how come it had not been detected before, through all his physicals?” Jackson’s stepmother, Cleo Jackson, said. “Boy was running around here, going to the high school working out, going to the Y working out. And every night he wants to do push-ups before he goes to bed and try to get someone to do push-ups with him.”
Jackson’s girlfriend found him unresponsive on the bedroom floor of her Sumter home early Monday morning. He was pronounced dead an hour later at a local hospital.
Funeral arrangements have not been finalized. Cleo Jackson said the family is considering holding a memorial service Friday or Saturday at Sumter High, where Jackson was a two-way standout and Shrine Bowl selection as a senior in 1999.
Jackson, who had 21 career starts at USC from 2001-2004, had been lifting weights and working out in Sumter in preparation for his second season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
A friend of Jackson’s recently was diagnosed with an enlarged heart, according to Cleo Jackson. But Jackson never exhibited any signs or symptoms that might have prompted him to undergo a cardiac exam.
“Never that sort of ailment. ... He never complained about chest aches,” Cleo Jackson said. “Never anything that would make us even suspect.”
Former Gamecocks receiver Andrea Gause, who lived with Jackson for four years at USC, said Jackson never mentioned having chest pains or heart-related issues in college.
Only a few schools nationally perform echocardiograms, which use ultrasound for a thorough examination of the heart, on athletes as part of their physicals. Although cardiologists believe the tests are effective in finding heart problems, their costs — as much as $1,000 per athlete — are the reason they have not become standard, experts say.
At USC, athletes with a family history of heart trouble or those with other risk factors are flagged for a “cardiac work-up” that could include an echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, stress test or blood test, said USC sports medicine director Jeff Guy.
An average of 125 American athletes younger than 35 die each year of sudden cardiac death. During a 10-month span beginning in December 2002, four athletes at Midlands-area high schools died of sudden cardiac death, including three who had enlarged hearts.
Given the frequency, Cleo Jackson believes schools should order heart scans for all athletes.
“It seems to me with it happening so frequently, it would be mandatory that the test be done on any athlete playing any strenuous sport,” she said.
“Nevertheless, I can’t bring my baby back.”
Information obtained from The Associated Press was used in this report. Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.