MILLERSBURG, Ohio - To truly appreciate the life of Jackson Straits, you first have to understand how the infant fought death-- his against all odds battle that took his parents and doctors at Akron Children's Hospital on an emotional journey.
Dr. John Clark, director of the Pediatric Arrhythmia Center, gets choked up when he talks about the struggle to keep the baby alive.
"It was difficult to sit down and talk with the family and say, 'I'm not sure he is going to make it,'" Dr. Clark said.
Expecting her third child and her first boy, Lisa Straits' pregnancy appeared to be going along perfectly.
Lisa, 31, and her husband, Robert, 37 even gushed over an ultrasound picture that appeared to show Jackson giving a thumbs up in the womb.
However, around that same time, 28 weeks, a routine appointment revealed some very serious problems and cast doubt on the baby's chances for survival.
"They checked the heartbeat and his heart was racing around the 200's," Lisa Straits said.
Doctors sent her home, but sensing something was seriously wrong, Lisa returned to the hospital the same day for an ultrasound.
They discovered Jackson had fluid in his lung cavity, his abdomen and in his skin, a very serious condition known as hydrops.
"Their whole body swells up, and for him, it was around his lungs which meant his lungs couldn't inflate the way it needed to. It was compressing him. They said it was like an elephant sitting on his chest," the mother said.
The rapid heart was diagnosed as atrial flutter. Coming up with a plan to treat two major medical conditions turned into one of the most complex cases in the career of Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Chandrakant Patel.
Dr. Patel knew the baby had virtually no chance of surviving unless he could make it four more weeks-- to week 32 of the pregnancy.
A normal heart rate for a baby is between 110 to 160 beats per minute, but Jackson's heart continued to race at 220, and if it kept beating that fast, it could have led to heart failure.
"Our goal was to keep the baby inside with the help of medication and control the baby's heart rate," Dr. Patel said."
Lisa took multiple pills and received in utero medications, which lowered Jackson's heart rate, but it never converted to a normal rhythm.
Dr. Patel monitored mother and baby every 48 hours, asking himself the same questions each time.
"Can we wait another of couple days? Is the baby safe inside?"
Around this time, a large number of people, including members of the Straits' church and nurses, gathered in Lisa's room to pray, but she wasn't feeling optimistic.
"I had very little hope most of the time," she said.
Robert felt for his wife and also worried, but he tried his best to remain positive.
"I knew God was always there with us, but sometimes it was like, 'What's going to happen? Is it going to happen now? Is he going to live?'" he said.
The doctors reached their goal of getting Jackson to 32 weeks and two days later, Lisa's water broke on March 27.
In the delivery room, Lisa held her breath and prayed. When Jackson came out crying, the room filled with tears.
"I was crying, my husband, the nurses, the doctors, everybody was crying. I couldn't believe he made it," Lisa recalled.
Using a procedure call cardioversion, Dr. Clark shocked Jackson's heart into a normal rhythm, but it didn't last. Two days later, his condition turned critical.
"His heart just skyrocketed again and the room filled with doctors and nurses. We had no idea what was happening," Lisa said.
Dr. Clark gave the baby different medications, hoping to convert and decode the heart rhythm, but those didn't control the situation. He began to wonder if Jackson was just too sick to live.
"You invest so much time trying to get him through it. It's hard to get to a point where you think you're losing, losing the battle," Dr. Clark said while fighting back tears.
He explained to the parents that shocking the baby's heart a second time was the only option left. Lisa and Robert agreed. Again, they prayed hoping Jackson could beat the odds one more time.
"About five minutes later, there was a knock on the door. It was Dr. Clark and he came in and said it worked... In that moment, he just became our hero to see how much he cared about our son. He said, 'I will do everything I can to help your son,'" Lisa said.
Robert and Lisa consider Jackson to be a miracle and Akron Children's doctors agree.
"I feel like God heard his people. They cried out and he answered our prayer," Lisa said,
"God made the right time for the fluid to be dispersed away from his lungs and his lungs to inflate at the right time. God is the only one that could do that," Robert added.
Jackson, who will turn three months on June 27, is on four different heart medications and doing well at the family's home
in Millersburg. He's also getting to know his two older sisters Madison, 8 and Macy, 4.
Dr. Clark said 50 percent of children with this heart condition outgrow it, and most of the other kids can have it fixed through a procedure.
The family has made orange "Team Jack" shirts and recently presented one to Dr. Clark during a follow-up appointment.
The doctor held up his shirt, smiled and said, "This just confirms my part of the team."
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