Doug Robinson: Hoops star Mikey Jacobsen is fighting back

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 25 2012 11:45 p.m. MST

Mikey Jacobsen, a point guard on the Woods Cross High basketball team, had a severe case of scoliosis and underwent surgery four years ago.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

Mikey Jacobsen might be the most remarkable prep basketball player in the state, but almost no one knows it. A two-year starter at point guard for Woods Cross High, he's averaging about 5 points, 2 assists and 1 steal a game — modest numbers unless you know the rest of the story.

In a game against Layton earlier this month, Jacobsen scored the game-winning basket with 8 seconds remaining, improvising a dash down the lane for a layup after a play broke down. Against Roy, he sank a game-winning free throw with 8 seconds left.

But none of this matches the feat Jacobsen pulled off just to make the team and play the game. Every time Jacobsen makes a shot or a steal, every time he sprints down the floor, it's a testament to his determination and the support of parents, doctors, a personal trainer and a dedicated surgeon.

"I don't think you realize how remarkable it is that your son is playing basketball," a doctor told Mikey's parents. "Do you appreciate how unusual this is? He's a miracle."

A few years ago, Jacobsen couldn't lift an unweighted bar in the weight room, put on socks or shoes, shoot a basketball or do anything more strenuous than walking.

Jacobsen has full-curvature scoliosis, a deformity in which the spine curls from side to side like a country road. Quasimodo, the tragic figure in Victor Hugo's "Hunchback of Notre Dame," probably had scoliosis, although this is never stated in the book.

Jacobsen's condition was discovered in the sixth grade when he underwent a physical to play baseball. Nobody had noticed it until then, although Jacobsen's father, Eric, was constantly telling him to stand up straight and pull his shoulders back. For the next two years Mikey wore a tortoiseshell back brace 18 hours a day.

But, as the disease is wont to do, the condition continued to worsen. There are degrees of severity with scoliosis. When the curvature in the spine is between 20 and 45 degrees, a brace is used to correct it. When the curvature is more severe, surgery is required. By the spring of Jacobsen's eighth-grade year, his spine was shaped like an S and one of the curves was a whopping 70 degrees.

From the base of his neck to the base of his ribs, Jacobsen's spine is trying to rotate around itself, the way you'd twist a wet wash rag to wring it out. His spine is twisting from left to right, pushing the ribs upward and backward until they protrude out his upper and mid back to form what many would call a hunchback. Meanwhile, as the left-to-right twisting continues, the left side of his chest is pushed out more prominently than the right side and the right shoulder is pushed forward and downward. The symptoms are often less pronounced in youth, but worsen with maturity — the curvature in the spine bends an additional 1-2 degrees every year.

Lacking the stability of a straight spine results in added stress to the support structure around it, leading to pain and discomfort. At the end of the day Mikey liked to lie on the hard floor for relief. There was only one solution: surgery.

As fate would have it, the Jacobsens knew just the man to help them. While living in Arizona for several years when Mikey was a boy, the family struck up a close friendship with Dr. Dennis Crandall, a surgeon specializing in spinal injuries and deformities. He is the official spinal surgeon for the Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns and Arizona State, as well as the Sonoran Spine Center. The entire family flew to Arizona to meet with Crandall about Mikey's scoliosis.

"They were scared to death," says Crandall. "This is their beautiful, healthy, teenage boy who has this horrible spinal deformity. They're a family with a culture of athletics and they're thinking, OK, he's done."

Eric, who owns an investment management firm called Jacobsen Capital Management, was an all-conference safety for the University of Utah football team. His wife Amy was a dancer. Their five children — Eliza, Mikey, Eden, Frank and Luke — are all heavily involved in sports (three of them work with a personal trainer).