His heart's content

PREP BASKETBALL: North Thurston junior Landon Rushton won't let medical condition prevent him from doing what he loves

February 16, 2011 

Seventeen years have gone by. The roller-coaster ride of emotion has stopped. But what Landon Rushton went through at a young age still tugs at the heartstrings of his mother, Laurie.

Landon’s fighter mentality is seen every time the North Thurston High School junior takes to the basketball court or football field or when he steps into the starting blocks on the track. His passion is sports; he’ll do whatever it takes to win.

Laurie has seen that same fight in her son since the day he was born.

At birth, the right side of Landon’s aorta – the large artery leading out of the heart – was completely closed, leading to emergency surgery so that blood flow could be restored. It was one of two surgeries he underwent in a four-year span.

Landon is healthy and strong now, and if not for a long scar that starts on his chest, few people would know he was in a life-or-death battle just days after being born.

As a three-sport athlete at North Thurston, Landon has had a breakout junior season on the basketball court for the Rams. He was named the Co-MVP of the 2A Evergreen Conference after leading the conference in scoring at 20.7 points per game during the regular season.

Tonight, North Thurston (15-6) faces Mark Morris at 7:45 p.m. in a District IV loser-out boys game at Kelso High School.

Going against some odds, Landon is thriving in sports – which at least one heart specialist opposed him doing at all.

“I call him my miracle child,” Laurie Rushton said. “He’s always been a fighter.”

EMERGENCY SURGERY

On Oct. 16, 1993, Laurie and her then-husband, Michael, became parents for a second time, welcoming their first son, Landon.

During a routine ultrasound prior to his birth, a specialist told Landon’s parents about what looked to be a narrowing of his aorta, a condition that would restrict the amount of blood that travels through the body. One side of Landon’s heart was larger than the other, and to this day, one side doesn’t relax all the way.

After Landon was born, he appeared to be healthy. But a routine checkup with a specialist two days later confirmed that the right side of the aorta was closed, and emergency surgery was performed when Landon was five days old.

Landon spent close to three weeks in the intensive care unit at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“It was pretty upsetting, just because of the roller coaster we were on,” Laurie Rushton said. “I felt like he was in good hands once we got up to the hospital.”

At age 4, a catheter was inserted into Landon’s heart to expand the narrowing of the aorta where the initial surgery was performed. The narrowed part wasn’t growing at the rate Landon was.

The family moved to Olympia in 2001. Landon didn’t show any physical problems from the surgeries, and Laurie and her now-husband, Rob Rushton, weren’t going to let Landon’s heart be a problem.

He wanted to play sports, so that’s what he did, and being active has been nothing but positive for his health.

A few years ago, during an appointment about possibly needing a stent implant, a specialist recommended that Landon “not do anything” as far as physical activity goes. That was difficult for Landon to hear, but to him, it wasn’t an option. A stent turned out to be not needed.

“Sports are my life,” he said.

MULTI-SPORT STAR

In addition to playing basketball and being a sprinter in track, Landon also is a starting wide receiver and defensive back in football. On Oct. 1, he set a single-game school record for receiving yards (193, on five catches) in a 42-41 loss to Centralia.

As a 5-foot-101/2 shooting guard, Rushton finds any way to score that he can. He shoots roughly 80 percent from the free-throw line and can rack up points quickly.

He had a season-high 35 points in an 82-61 victory over Black Hills on Jan. 11. In a 66-60 loss to River Ridge on Jan. 14, he had 26 points, making 14 of 16 free throws.

His junior season came as “a little surprising, but not shocking” to North Thurston coach Tim Brown. Rushton averaged 16 points per game last season as a sophomore.

“He’s so efficient with his shots,” Brown said. “He’s one of the best scorers we’ve ever had and has really developed into a great scorer.”

North Thurston has four juniors in its starting lineup – Rushton, Matt Reid, Ben Broeker and Jacob Anderson. Rushton and his fellow guard, Reid, are best friends and have played together since the second grade at South Bay Elementary.

“He and I have a certain type of chemistry,” Rushton said. “He seems to always find me in open spots. I’m fortunate to have such a great point guard.”

And his heart? He’s monitored on a yearly basis with checkups of his heart valves, and he has been cleared the past seven times.

Other than taking blood pressure medication that he’ll most likely need for the rest of his life and not being able to max out while weightlifting, Rushton won’t let his condition be an issue.

“It’s been really fun to watch him take that passion and not let anything stop him,” Laurie Rushton said.

The fighter mind-set lives on.

“I’m not going to stop until my heart won’t let me,” Landon said.

mwochnick@theolympian.com theolympian.com/prepsportsblog

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