Two days after Deja Black gave birth to son Jackson in June 2013, doctors diagnosed the newborn with hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) – a congenital heart defect in which the left side of the heart (the part that pumps oxygenated blood to the rest of the body) is underdeveloped.
The diagnosis came as a complete shock to Deja. She sailed through her pregnancy with no complications and Jackson, by all accounts, was happy and healthy. However, babies with HLHS appear healthy at birth because a blood vessel called the patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) allows blood to flow from the aorta to the rest of the body, bypassing the lungs and defective left side of the heart. When the PDA closes, as it normally does soon after birth, blood flows to the lungs and the left side of the heart, where it is blocked and cannot circulate freely.
On the day of Jackson’s diagnosis, he was airlifted from his hometown of Mobile to Children’s of Alabama, where a team of doctors prepared Deja for the road ahead. Jackson would undergo three surgeries to repair his heart.
“I checked myself out of the hospital and drove up to Birmingham. From that point, we needed to get him stable enough to go through his first surgery when he was a week old,” Deja said.
Jackson underwent his second surgery at age four months, then his third surgery in September 2016 at age 3. In that time span, Jackson has charmed his doctors and nurses, all of whom he has wrapped around his finger. “Every time we come to Children’s, everybody falls in love with him. He has a commanding personality to be so young. He’s always been a happy child despite what he’s gone through in his life,” Deja said.
Among Jackson’s biggest fans is his cardiothoracic surgeon, Robert Dabal, M.D., who Deja said is “one of the most caring men I’ve met in my life.” Dabal returns the accolades. “Jackson is a strong little boy. From the first time I met him until now, he has been a fighter,” Dabal said. “He has developed the most endearing personality and is so much fun to be around. And his mom is a model for what all moms should be –completely devoted to her sweet boy.”
Said Deja, “It’s rare you come across medical professionals at that level who are willing to sit down and take time to have general conversations with the patient and patient families, and I appreciate that a great deal from [Dabal]. We love him from the bottom our hearts.”
Deja continued, “The staff at Children’s is superior to everyone else. I’ve never met so many people who were genuinely caring and genuinely nice from the janitorial staff to the surgeons. We’ve always felt welcomed, we’ve always felt part of the family, and that’s how it should be at a medical facility dealing with children.”
Today, Jackson is a playful and talkative toddler who continues to charm everyone he encounters. The Children’s staff checks in on Jackson’s progress often, Deja said, and she couldn’t be more thankful.
“He’s a hoot!” Deja said of her son. “I just look at him sometimes and think, ‘Where did you come from?’ He knows way more than a three year old should know. Jackson is a one-of-a-kind child and I’m thankful every day that I was chosen to be his mommy.”