Rebecca Jackson’s lifelong passion for studying human physiology is rivaled only by her love for Ohio State football.
A native of Columbus, Jackson started her first experiments in seventh grade studying the effects of manipulated thyroid levels in lab rats.
“For some reason in health class I read about hypo- and hyper-thyroids and I thought thyroids were pretty cool,” Jackson said.
The experiment ended with an increased fertility rate causing a rise from 100 to 200 rats to about 1,000, Jackson said.
“I had very tolerant parents who were very supportive,” Jackson said.
More than four decades later, Jackson is the director for the OSU Medical Center’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science and associate dean for clinical research after forming a grant that resulted in $34 million in funding for CCTS from the National Institutes of Health.
She has been a principal investigator and national vice chair for the Women’s Health Initiative, the longest and largest study focusing on aging effects of women. She continues her practice as a physician focusing on endocrinology and, more specifically, osteoporosis and muscular, skeletal diseases.
Her busy schedule does not seem to bother her said Rose Hallarn, program director in CCTS.
“She is constantly over-scheduled because it’s hard for her to say no because she’s excited about all projects,” Hallarn said.
Always having a strong connection to OSU, living nearby and having a mother who was a professor and associate provost at OSU, Jackson is a passionate Buckeye fan.
“I love OSU,” Jackson said. “I say I’m the only person that smiles when I see Lincoln and Morrill Tower.”
Jackson has only missed a handful of football games since she was a child. Kim Toussant, assistant director in CCTS, said everyone knows Jackson bleeds scarlet and gray.
“People know, don’t schedule anything on a football day because she’s going to be at the game,” Toussant said.
Jackson said she never missed an OSU home game while she was at graduate school at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She would take a Saturday morning flight to Columbus to catch each home game.
“I would never be more than a few minutes late,” Jackson said. “It’s a terrible disease.”
During her time as a student at OSU, Jackson worked for the Ohio Union Activities Board and through the organization got to know former OSU football coach Woody Hayes.
Her office is adorned with Buckeye memorabilia, some gifts from Hayes over the years.
It was during her time in Baltimore at medical school that Jackson would undergo the most trying time of her life.
In an attempt to prevent a cat from falling off a balcony, Jackson tripped over a railing and fell three stories, injuring her spinal cord. After three-and-a-half months in neurointensive care and rehabilitation, Jackson started her path to becoming a doctor again from the seat of a wheelchair, where she has been ever since.
“It just wasn’t the norm for somebody who was in a wheelchair to go back to being a physician at a very competitive residency program,” Jackson said. “I was incredibly lucky that I had a wonderful chairman of medicine who was very supportive of me coming back and basically not treating me any different than before.”
The lack of preferential treatment is one thing Jackson points to that helped her deal with her newfound situation.
“People just never treated me any differently than they would have treated me if I wasn’t in a wheelchair,” Jackson said. “They weren’t over-nice to me and didn’t put barriers to make it difficult for me to do what I do.”
A constant optimist, Jackson did have some initial hesitations and questions she had to ask herself before committing to a life of medicine.
“How would I take care of really critically ill people? How was I going to get IV lines in their central lines? How was I going to position myself relative to a hospital bed?” Jackson said.
Her relationship with Hayes got stronger as a result of her injury.
“Someone called and told him I was in the hospital and Coach Hayes flew out to see me and we actually became really close friends,” Jackson said.
They kept in touch up until Hayes’ death in 1987.
Jackson finds time to mentor students, said Valerie DeGroff, who has known Jackson for 19 years and still works with her.
“I’ve never seen a mentor spend as much time with each student that she’s got,” DeGroff said. “Which is really amazing for someone who has the level of commitments she has.”
One of these students is Tonya Orchard, a fourth-year graduate student in interdisciplinary nutrition.
“She has a real interest in people and seeing students and those she works with develop into their full potential,” Orchard said.
This is something apparent to Toussant, who Jackson is sponsoring in her pursuit of a master of business operational excellence degree.
Her family is just as much a part of her life as her research and love of OSU football. She has two children, Natalie, 21, and Alex, 18, with her husband, Walter Jerry Mysiw, the chairperson for physical medicine and rehabilitation at OSU’s medical center.
Alex plays football at Denison University and Jackson said she has a difficult time balancing her son’s Saturday football games with her strong love for Buckeye football.
“I asked myself, ‘How am I going to weigh being a good parent and cheering my kid and going to the Buckeye games?'” Jackson said. “So I guess I was a better Buckeye fan last year because I didn’t miss any games.”