MARICOPA — With Daxton Redfern’s Maricopa High School football career completed and graduation behind him, the former Rams quarterback was ready to take on his college experience at Northern Arizona University as a business major.
But, life had other plans.
In early July, Daxton fell ill with what he thought was strep throat. The bacterial infection was common for Daxton, who got strep at least twice a year, usually in the summer. He visited a few doctors, but none could pinpoint what was causing his symptoms.
At that point, Daxton’s mom, Zoe Redfern, was monitoring him closely at home, and his condition began to deteriorate rapidly. The 6-foot-6, 200 pounder was winded even walking from the house to the car, and his heart was racing. She took him to a Casa Grande medical facility, but they quickly realized Daxton was much worse than they could handle at the office.
“His heart was moving at about 200 beats-per-minute,” Zoe said. “They said, ‘You have to get him to a Trauma I emergency room immediately because his heart is failing.’”
Chandler Regional Hospital was the closest to them, so Zoe made the drive, picking up her husband, Mike, and white-knuckling the steering wheel all the way there.
The 18-year-old was admitted to Chandler hospital that day, but for a few days he hung in limbo as doctors were unsure if he would pull through at all. The mysterious virus had taken hold of his internal organs, effectively shutting down his regular bodily functions.
“My body basically just started breaking down, and I was really struggling,” he wrote recently from his NAU dorm room. “My kidney and liver were both at really low functions and started causing issues, but the thing that ended up being the biggest issue was my heart.”
Daxton was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, which basically meant his heart was failing and was working at only about 30% ejection fraction (EF), a measurement of how much blood is leaving the heart per beat. Meanwhile, his lungs and chest had filled with fluid.
Doctors worked round the clock to figure out what was causing Daxton’s extensive symptoms. He says he must have been tested for COVID-19 more than 20 times throughout his ordeal, but all his tests came back negative. Antibody tests also came back negative.
“There’s still a vagueness behind everything that happened with me and my body,” Daxton said. “After about two months of extensive testing and hospital stays, the doctors came to the conclusion that it was most likely just a viral infection that really took a toll on my body for whatever reason. They believe I was fighting mono (epstein-barr), strep throat and pneumonia all concurrently.”
Daxton lost 40 pounds in the ordeal — mostly muscle. His heart is back up to 45% EF, with the hope that he will one day get to 60%, “but that’s about the best they think my heart will recover.” He may have some slight long-term damage to his kidneys as well, but he is completely symptom free now.
Daxton and doctors said his strong physical condition at the time helped with his recovery, thanks to his work with MHS football and Coach Brandon Harris.
“The only thing that was really keeping him going was his heart was in such strong condition,” Zoe said. “His heart rate was continuously, extremely high. ... Ultimately with his heart being in such great condition, it saved his life. Otherwise he would have ended up dying that day that we first took him to Chandler Regional because he went into cardiac arrest.”
Daxton is slowly gaining weight following his ordeal and hopes to be able to get back in the gym by December. But sports, for now, are out of the question due to his health. He is still on some medications, and Zoe says she’s playing mama bear in ensuring her son is diligent with his medications.
Still, she says she’s never been more proud of her son, who was forced to grow up fast these past few months.
“He had to grow up very quickly. He had to make decisions and learn about his health,” she said, tearing up. “He did a really good job and he came out of this experience very mature. I am very proud of the decisions he has made.”
Daxton said his hospital stay was an isolating experience. He went more than 10 days without a single visitor due to COVID regulations. But his family, friends and former football team found other ways to show their love and support for the former quarterback.
“Even though I was by myself, it helped knowing that my family and a lot of people all around the city were thinking of me,” Daxton said. “I can’t thank Coach Harris and the football team enough for their continuous support through this whole situation. Coach Harris especially has done a lot for me, and he and I will continue to remain close even as I pursue other things into college.”
Daxton and his brother both attended Maricopa schools since kindergarten, and support for the Redferns came from all parts of the community.
“I could not believe the outpour of positive communication that we received from the people in our community,” Zoe said. “It really just makes us proud to live here in Maricopa and that’s why we’ve stayed here for so long.”
The recovering Daxton is now ready to turn his attention back onto his bright future at NAU, studying business and attending school via hybrid learning.
“The past two to three months have been the craziest months of my life, and it’s been a really life changing time for me. But my family, friends, and everyone who supported me, have made it significantly easier,” Daxton said. “I’m just thankful I’m at where I’m at.”
MARICOPA — Andrea Jackson was 39 when she discovered she liked to run. The preschool teacher and real estate agent has lived in Maricopa for 18 years, but it wasn’t until about a decade ago that she first laced up her running shoes.
“I did it just to prove that I could,” she said. “I told someone I would train for one half-marathon because I hated running and I thought, if all these other people can do it, I need to basically ‘suck it up buttercup’ and try — and I got hooked. I really liked it, and I like to race too, just the environment of a race is the best part.”
Jackson continued running after her first experience, setting her eyes on her ultimate goal of the Boston Marathon, the oldest annual marathon in the world and also one of the most well-known road racing events. The 26.2-mile race is grueling, with the average run time for the last 20 years about 3 hours, 54 minutes, a time that is somewhat dependent on weather conditions.
Some 30,000 runners compete every year, and in order to even be chosen to participate, runners must race in a qualifying marathon. Categories based on age and gender are used to determine who qualifies and the times range anywhere between 3:20 for 18- to 34-year-old women to 5:20 for those women 80 and older.
At 48, Jackson would technically need to run a 3:50 to qualify, but due to the 31,500 applicants this year, that number decreased by 1 minute, 39 seconds. Jackson qualified with a time of 3:41, but another 3,161 applicants, including her friend and running partner Kaying Phu, did not meet the cutoff.
With the qualifier under her belt, she was ready for the April 2020 race to begin. She booked her flights and hotel almost a year in advance and trained daily during the 12 to 16 weeks leading up to the race.
“March 13, which was only five weeks before the race was supposed to happen, I had just run my second of three, 20-mile training runs that day,” she said. “Right after I got home from running 20 miles, I found out that they postponed it, which was not fun.”
The race was originally postponed to Sept. 14 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but because the pandemic is still ongoing, the Boston Marathon decided to go virtual.
“They gave us from Saturday, (Sept. 5) through Monday (Sept. 14) to run our 26.2 miles,” she explained. “Then we submit our times to them, and we’ll get our medal and shirt and everything mailed to us. That’s really it, you just run it on your own and send them your time.”
It is by no means an honor system, however. When she runs, Jackson wears a GPS watch that tracks her route, heart rate, step count and mileage all in one. She can then submit that data to the Boston Marathon to secure her place. Still, it’s nothing how she envisioned it would be.
“A race is an exciting thing, and the Boston Marathon is a huge accomplishment, and to not get to go is very disappointing,” Jackson said. “Running it virtually is not the least bit exciting, it’s just not the same thing.”
She managed to make it special in her own way though. Her friend Phu, who similarly was disappointed by the Chicago marathon being virtual this October, ran the whole race with her for her own time.
The two started at 4 a.m. at Pacana Park on Saturday and ran the first 10 miles by themselves. Then they planned to return to the park and pick up a group of runners with the Maricopa Running Club for another 6 miles before returning a third time for the final 10-mile leg with a group of guys from the club. However, several of the guys decided to run 16 miles with her to help support her. Jackson circled back with the group for her big finish just before 8 a.m.
“I have to admit, you don’t feel fabulous the day of a marathon. … It’s pretty brutal on your body,” Jackson said. “That’s why when you train, you don’t train 26 miles. Most marathon training plans never have you run more than 20 miles for training because it’s just not good for your body to be doing it for that many hours.”
She still managed a great run, though, clocking in at 3:42.24. Her husband, Richard, anticipated the virtual run would be hard for Jackson and deployed friends and family to surprise her before, during and after the race, showering her with love.
“(There was) a lot of support out there, which is really nice because that was the part I was dreading. At a race you have tons of people there cheering you on,” Jackson said. “I even had a friend that is a runner that lives in Ahwatukee that drove out for the end. I had one of my old preschool families come to see me at the end (too), which was really fun.”
Even the weather cooperated. The projected high of 85 never arrived, and Jackson ran her whole marathon in 70-degree weather.
She has already submitted her Saturday time, officially making her a finisher of the marathon.
Jackson is still determined to travel to Boston and compete in the 2021 race. Those who qualified this year are all able to register for 2021, but because there have been more registrations for 2021 since April, there is still a chance some will not qualify with their original times.
However, that has no bearing on Jackson’s ferocious desire to see herself crossing that finish line.
“I will 100% not give up until I go to Boston — I just won’t,” she said. “If I have to run another race someday and qualify again, I will. I will go to Boston.”
MARICOPA — Maricopa Fire battled a double mobile home fire Thursday night on Saddleback Vista Avenue with extensive backup to put out the flames.
The first firefighters on-scene arrived at two adjacent mobile homes off Murphy Road already both fully engulfed in flames, according to Chris Bolinger with MFD. Firefighters worked to fight the first-alarm fire defensively, from the outside of the home, as “fire conditions made it so that entry by fire crews was impossible.”
Three other trailers in the vicinity were considered in danger of exposure to the fire and were saved by the quick actions of firefighters on scene, who doused them in water. Firefighters also managed to save a dog and two cats from the fire, which was generating extreme heat.
They weren’t alone in their fight — fire crews from Casa Grande, Phoenix, Chandler and Mesa all responded to give assistance. Volunteer teams were also on scene to help firefighters.
No one was injured in the fires, and the cause is still being investigated.