It’s hard to cope if your life suddenly turns upside down, especially if you’re just a sixth-grade kid like Jackson Blanton was when it happened.
Jackson and everyone who knew him thought he was a “normal” youngster. He was exceptionally talented on the baseball diamond. He loved singing and acting. He was active, with a wide circle of friends until – that day at school when he felt dizzy.
“It was scary,” he recalled. “I felt like I was going to pass out, something I had never experienced.”
Friends helped Jackson to the nurses’ office, where they determined his heart was beating very slowly with no sounds coming from the bottom chambers.
“They took me to Cook Children’s Hospital,” Jackson said. “By then, my heart was working fine, and they couldn’t duplicate whatever happened to me earlier.”
“One of the suggestions was an immediate heart transplant,” he added. “But the cardiologist suggested more tests.”
The doctors sent Jackson home with a heart monitor. He returned to school and to rehearsals for an upcoming play. It was during rehearsal that something weird happened.
“I don’t remember any of it,” Jackson said, “but one of my classmates told me I walked off stage, fainted, got up, didn’t say a word, just went back on stage and finished the scene.” The heart monitor recorded everything.
This time, the trip to the hospital resulted in a pacemaker that remained in his body for the next three years.
“It was easy to over-exert,” Jackson said. “When I did, I got dizzy. It was always a shocking reminder that I could die the next time.”
It was also scary for Jackson’s friends. “They knew about my condition, but they didn’t know what to do if it happened while I was with them,” he said. “I think I would have been terrified if we hadn’t had such an outpouring of support, prayers, and love. If I got down, someone would be at the door with a cake and a prayer to keep me lifted up.”
Jaime, Jackson’s mother, said her son navigated by faith.
“Our lives have been unique,” Jamie said. “I have cerebral palsy and am confined to a wheelchair. I have an 18-year-old daughter at the University of Arkansas, and both kids have grown up seeing me cope.”
Jaime has also worked over 20 years in fund-raising for child welfare, with Cumberland Youth and Family Services. She recently transitioned to CASA Denton County (Court Appointed Special Advocates), which gives children in foster care an adult advocate. “Currently, there are 64 children waiting for advocates,” Jaime said. “All these circumstances gave us, as a family, a positive perspective on Jackson.”
In August, 2022, Jackson’s condition worsened quickly. He became 100% dependent on the pacemaker. His heart wasn’t functioning. He needed a new heart. Immediately.
“It’s a complicated process,” Jaime said. “Blood type. Antibodies. The size of the chest. Jackson grew a lot during the three years with the pacemaker, so he could accept an adult heart.”
“I was put on the heart transplant list,” Jackson continued, “but I was in the hospital for two months leading up to that. It was incredible, but I had a match within days. I had the transplant and was released from the hospital nine days later.
“That was nine months ago. I’m still building up to 100% strength, but it’s all going great,” Jackson said. “There are so many silver linings. My sister is majoring in architecture and focusing on access for the physically challenged.”
Jackson also realized how much he loves acting. “I’ve earned an opportunity to spend three weeks this summer in New York at Ithaca College. I’ll learn from voice professors, choreographers, and other acting professionals,” he said.
“Companies have flown me to San Diego and other places to speak about my experience. Because of my acting, I had the confidence to stand on a stage in front of people,” Jackson said.
“I know I still have hurdles, such as another transplant in the future. But I also know the procedures and medications are improved, and the hearts last longer.”
Jackson’s determined not to be held back by any of this. “I intend to go to college. I’m 16 now, and I know I have a future. I’m at school. I feel good. I just finished a production of Fiddler on the Roof, and I was proud to see my cardiologist in the front row.”
With continued prayer and faith, there’s no end in sight for Jackson’s journey.