One in a Million

June 5, 2015

Langston HughesThanks to CSUN services, Langston Jackson overcomes physical and learning challenges caused by the anoxic brain damage he sustained from a heroin overdose almost three years ago.

During his 37-day coma, the best scenario for 22-year-old Langston seemed to be a nursing home, a feeding tube and a diaper — a jarring contrast to his former glamorous life as a University of California, Berkeley, football player.

The doctors at the Cedars Sinai Medical Center where he was a patient explained to Langston’s family that it was unlikely he would ever wake up. Despite the bleak forecast, Langston’s mother chose to keep him on life support.

Every day, Langston’s family visited him. On one visit, his sister put ice on his lips. He woke up and began to chew the ice. Langston’s odds were a million to one and, to this day, neurologists can’t explain his recovery. Some suspect that his youth and history of athleticism helped. 

Langston’s near-death experience was captured in the British Broadcasting Corp.’s documentary “Louis Theroux’s L.A. Stories: Edge of Life in which filmmaker Louis Theroux explores how Americans deal with end-of-life medical situations. Although Langston had been living with the overdose’s aftermath, because of short-term memory loss, he had a hard time coming to terms with it at first.

“Before I saw the documentary, I didn’t believe [what had] happened,” he says.

Because Langston suffered heavy nerve damage throughout his body, he spent five months in different hospitals, receiving speech, physical and occupational rehabilitation, and incurred millions of dollars in medical bills. His family created an online fundraiser for the payments.

Eventually, a social worker introduced Langston to CSUN’s Center of Achievement Through Adapted Physical Activity, which provides student-run adapted fitness programs for people with disabilities. When Langston first started, he could barely walk or groom himself. CSUN kinesiology majors helped him regain his physical abilities a little each day. Thanks to the center, Langston now can walk across the campus without any assistance.

“Every day I’m progressing,” Langston says. “The students add more weights and push me to do more than I did yesterday.”

While at CSUN, Langston also became involved with the Music Therapy Wellness Clinic in which CSUN music therapy majors work with people with disabilities. The clinic has become place for Langston to feel joy again. In addition to increasing dexterity and coordination, playing the piano and drums allow him to have fun again.

Being in a college environment again inspired Langston to transfer CSUN. In fall 2014 he enrolled as a liberal studies major with the interdisciplinary option of music technology.

In addition to going back to school, Langston shares his story by traveling to Los Angeles and Ventura county school districts to speak about substance abuse and prevention.

Since he only knows too well how substance abuse is common among student athletes, he plans on returning to the Berkeley campus to screen a 20-minute version of Theroux’s documentary to members of its football team.

For more information about the CSUN services that Langston used, visit the Center of Achievement Through Adapted Physical Activity website and the Music Therapy Wellness Clinic website.