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Free Care Fund: Jackson defying the odds as UPMC Children's Hospital brings him through 8 open heart surgeries

Free Care Fund: Jackson Hawkins
Free Care Fund: Jackson Hawkins 03:38

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- We're gearing up for the 69th Annual KDKA-TV Free Care Fund Telethon on Thursday, Dec. 8. The Free Care Fund at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh ensures that no child is ever denied medical care.

Jackson Hawkins, of Sharon, Pennsylvania, has been defying the odds since before he was born. At just 4-years-old, he's already had quite the journey.

While his mom, Danielle, was pregnant, an ultrasound revealed something serious.

"It showed that there were multiple things going on and that they weren't sure if he would even make it through birth," Danielle said.

Doctors told Danielle and her husband, Torrie, that Jackson had Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect. Their fear was magnified on the day Jackson was born at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh when Danielle and Jackson's heart rates both dropped and doctors had to do an emergency c-section.

All told, 4-year-old Jackson Hawkins has had eight open heart surgeries, six heart caths and 16 coils implanted in his heart. (Image Provided)

"You don't know if she's gonna make it or if the baby's gonna make it. It's a lot," Torrie said. "Then, when you hear him cry for the first time, you could breathe a little bit, like, 'Okay, he's here.'"

After delivery, doctors discovered Jackson actually had two holes in his heart, his right ventricle wasn't working and his pulmonary vein was very thin.

"When Jackson was 14 days old, he had his first open heart surgery," Danielle said.

Jackson spent five and a half months in the hospital. Less than two months after he went home, he returned for his second open heart surgery.

It went well, but while Jackson was in recovery, he suffered a life-threatening setback when a vein from his heart to his lungs was compressed.

"They had to put him on life support," Danielle said. "He was on life support for 48 hours."

But Jackson made it through, yet again. In fact, all told, he's had eight open heart surgeries, six heart caths and 16 coils implanted in his heart.

"Every time he comes out, he comes out stronger," Danielle said.

He has one more heart surgery to go in March of next year. But even with that still looming, Danielle and Torrie can't believe how much Jackson has improved.

He no longer needs a feeding tube and takes just two medicines a day -- down from 26.

"We've come a long way," Danielle said. "Four years ago, if you'd told me this is where we'd be I'd have told you, you were crazy," Danielle said.

They say they have received a ton of support from their family and friends but give all credit to God and UPMC Children's Hospital.

"I would definitely always say that without God, none of this would be possible; but, also, without Children's, we would not be here today," Danielle said. '"The minute you walk in there, you know you're safe. You know you're in the right place."

Free Care Fund: Jackson gets his own truck before drawing the raffle winner 05:41

"I wouldn't trade it for the world," Torrie said. "He's my, these two are my everything."

"A lot of people are like, 'Oh, he has Downs,'" Danielle said. "I said, 'There ain't nothing down about this. It's nothing but joy.'"

So much joy. So much love. And so much yet to live for.

You can help make sure kids just like Jackson get the care they need by donating to the Free Care Fund during our 69th Annual Telethon on Thursday, Dec. 8, from 4 until 8 p.m., right here on KDKA-TV.

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