BUFFALO, NY - Naseer Jackson was a four sport athlete at St. Joes Collegiate Institute, who dreamed of attending college on an athletic scholarship.
However, last fall, after receiving an offer to play football from Division II Bowie State University in Maryland, he began feeling poorly.
“I was fatigued, I had rashes, and I had joint pains…" Jackson recalled, adding that the malaise began interfering with his ability to practice and to attend classes.
A litany of tests and biopsies for what doctors feared might be leukemia or lymphoma left them without any definitive answers.
His symptoms worsened until becoming calamitous on the morning of April 23rd.
“I was in the shower and that's when I had the first stroke," said Jackson, who will turn 18 this weekend.
His left side paralyzed, he was rushed to the hospital, where doctors eventually concluded that he had Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease.
"I barely knew anything about Lupus," Jackson – known to his friends and family as “Nas” -- told WGRZ-TV.
However, he learned plenty about it during numerous subsequent stays at Buffalo Women and Children’s Hospital, during which time he often read the Bible as well.
“Sometimes you have to be knocked down to get back up, and it's about the things that will make or break you. You read it day by day, so that way you live day by day," he said.
Boosted by the support of his St. Joes Classmates, and his mother Pam, whom he refers to as his “left side”, Nas began a remarkable recovery, learning to walk again while in the hospital, eventually well enough so that just weeks after suffering the stroke, he was able to return to the school to attend graduation ceremonies with his classmates, who greeted his receiving his diploma with thunderous applause.
Dressed in a shirt and tie, Jackson spoke at length with 2 on Your Side about his ordeal, and his future plans to attend college and eventually become a teacher and a school principal.
After the interview, he adjourned, still wearing his dress clothes, to his driveway where he picked up a basketball and began to shoot baskets.
“I have to re-learn my motor skills,” he said. “I work the left side of my body every day.”
At the same time, though, he said some might not understand the gravity of his condition when they see him.
“If you look at me, you'll say this kid looks perfectly fine," he conceded.
But Lupus is an insidious disease, which can render those who suffer from it helpless almost without warning.
“There’s times when I'm just down,” said Jackson. “My body doesn’t feel like it can do anything.”
Nas takes enough pills to fill a pharmacy shelf, as part of a daily regiment to ward off the effects of the disease, for which there is no known cure.
“I’ll have to take medicine for the rest of my life,” he said.
In addition, he faces monthly chemotherapy.
While helpful, his mother’s medical insurance does not cover all of his expenses.
Therefore, a GoFundMe page has been set up to help defray those costs, and for college expenses when Jackson begins attending classes at Buffalo State College this fall, without the benefit of the athletic scholarship once offered to him to attend college in Maryland.
Despite life’s unexpected setbacks, Jackson is determined to reach his goals.
“We can fight Lupus,” he insisted. “It’s just a battle, and without struggle, there is no purpose—Frederick Douglas said that.”
While plans may change, you can always make a new one, according to this teenager who appears to have wisdom beyond his 17 years.
“No plan ever dies. Dreams always stay alive," he said.
And as long as there's a dream, there's plan, however different it may have been from that which existed not long ago for a star high school athlete.
“My plan now is to advocate…to let people know there’s more to life spread. To spread God’s word and to spread awareness for Lupus,” he said.
“He has gone about this with a wisdom and strength which even I can’t claim to possess,” said Pam Jackson, who noted that not once during his ordeal has her teenage son asked, "Why me?”
“The reason I have it is because of God’s plan,” insisted Nas.
“It's part of God's plan for me to have it, and that’s why I take it as a blessing that I am learning more about Lupus, and that I can try and help others with Lupus. It isn’t just a disease, it's a part of life," he said.
Jackson, despite long odds, hasn’t given up his dream of returning to the gridiron someday.
To that end, Buffalo State Football coach Jerry Boyes has offered him a role with the team this fall, and has promised him --should he ever be healthy enough – an opportunity to try to play again.