This is Jackson's story as told by his Mother, Anna.My son Jackson turned 12 years old on June 22, 2014. About a month before this, Jackson stopped acting like himself. He was lethargic, and he was getting paler and skinner, but the doctor thought it was simply because he was a growing boy. Then, about two weeks before Jackson’s twelfth birthday, we took him to the doctor for a persistent cough and it seemed as though he had pneumonia.
On June 25, Jackson complained of his chest hurting when he ran, and we thought it was because of his lingering pneumonia. The next day he had soccer practice and he wanted to go, so I dropped him off at practice so I could run an errand, and I told him to call me if his chest began hurting again. I received a call minutes later that Jackson was struggling to breathe. I returned to the practice fields and saw that he was barely breathing, so I rushed him to the hospital. When we got to the hospital, he was not breathing at all. There was a code blue and shortly after that, the hospital asked for permission to airlift him to the University of Iowa Hospital.
After midnight on June 26, we finally had a meeting with the doctor and we were told that Jackson had a large cancerous mass surrounding his lungs, and it was either lymphoma or leukemia. His actual diagnosis was T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and it was found that 88% of his blood was cancerous. He was placed in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and the next day he began chemotherapy and had a bone marrow analysis.
Jackson’s kidneys failed almost immediately, and he received several blood transfusions as well as dialysis. Around July 1, Jackson had a good week; he was able to get out of bed and walk around. Then his white blood cell count started dropping and he got fluid in his lungs, so he was moved to continuous dialysis. At this point, he was receiving daily blood and platelet transfusions. July 13 was his last day out of bed, and from July 14 on, Jackson was continuously fighting off infections. He had to be on a very strict diet to prevent infections when possible, and eventually his diet consisted of only blood and platelet transfusions because he was having bad reactions to any food he ate. The hospital tried three white blood cell transfusions but unfortunately nothing took. The last week of Jackson’s life, we were just waiting to see how he would do. He had complete liver, kidney and lung failure, he had jaundice, and he had an infection overtaking his blood vessels.
During his treatment, we all gave blood because we all knew the importance of it. They were running his blood tests every hour to try to maintain his blood levels and to try to keep infections at bay. Donated blood was how Jackson survived. He was around for 47 more days because of blood donors, and we’re so very grateful for that.
Jackson passed away on August 11. We were lucky enough to have time to say goodbye that day. After a month of not being able to be close to him, we were able to take off our medical masks, hold and kiss him, and lay in bed with him. Our entire family and the PICU staff were waiting to say goodbye to him. It was the most beautiful day. I know that sounds strange, but it was very beautiful for my family to be able to say goodbye to him. I was there when Jackson came into the world and I was there when he left it.
He was such a sweet and considerate boy who touched so many people, even the staff at the hospital. He was a child beyond his years, and how he handled his cancer diagnosis is part of the reason why we can cope now. He never asked, “Why me?” or felt sorry for himself, and that kept us feeling positive. He was so strong and hardworking throughout his battle, so I now have to be strong for him, share his story and raise awareness for childhood cancers. I want people to know the importance of blood donation and childhood cancer awareness so that Jackson’s story isn’t in vain.