Little cowboy back home with beloved pet cow after more than 400 days in hospital

A young cowboy in neighboring Cleveland, Texas is finally home from the hospital, after undergoing a heart transplant. His situation is eye-opening this "Donate Life Month" about how being on the donor list can save precious lives, like his. 

SEE ALSO: Mystery virus sends young Houston-area man into organ failure

Jackson Ward, 8, spent 453 days in the hospital, many of those days fighting for his life. One thing that helped keep him going was the thought of going home to his family and beloved pet that he calls his best friend, his cow, Itsy. 

"I wanted to see Itsy at home and feed her," explains Jackson. 


His medical journey began before he was even born. 

"The left side of Jackson's heart hadn't formed properly," explains Leah, Jackson's loving mother. "It was very underdeveloped, and it's called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. It was just earth-shattering because I never knew babies were born with heart issues."

Because the left side of Jackson's heart didn't function, he underwent three heart surgeries between the time he was born and Kindergarten. That helped until he turned seven years old, but then a virus sent him into a downward spiral and into the emergency room. 

"They did their bloodwork, and his heart failure number was over 2000, and we just automatically knew that this was going to be our path to transplant, he just got really bad really quick," explains Leah. 

Those levels go up when the heart can't pump correctly, anything over 100 is considered to be abnormal. 

The Wards wanted to give him the best chance at life by finding the best medical care. They found huge relief in taking Jackson to the #1 Heart Center in the country at Texas Children's Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. 

"Everyone knew Jackson, knew his family became very invested in him and in his care and in his outcome," explains Dr. William Dreyer, the Medical Director of the Texas Children's Heart Transplant program. "Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is one of the more difficult diagnoses that our patients face and for us as providers. He developed heart failure, and it became necessary for us to place what we call a ventricular assist device, in order to support his circulation, and that's when I became involved."


Jackson says he sure is thankful he had that option! 

"The Berlin Heart was a machine heart that pumped for my heart until I got my offer (for a donated heart)," explains Jackson. 

"Some of the patients waiting for heart transplantation deteriorate while we're waiting and in the past, there was not much therapy we could offer for that type of problem, but nowadays, we have we're more aggressive options, in terms of providing the special treatment called mechanical circulatory support, using the artificial pump to help the heart which is very weak, so that the patient can wait more safely until the heart becomes available, and that's what we did for Jackson," explains Dr. Iki Adachi, the Surgical Director of Texas Children's Heart Transplant program. 

Jackson tells us he was really happy that he had that option. Dr. Adachi says that Jackson's case was a very challenging one, but he says Jackson was an enjoyable patient to work with because he had such a good attitude through it all. 


Finally, in July 2022, they found a match!  Doctors prepped Jackson for the potentially life-saving surgery. 

"They were ready to get the heart, but the plane couldn't take off because of a malfunction," explains Leah. 

The matching heart couldn't be delivered, and it took three more months of waiting in the hospital before another match. 

"On October 1, 2022, Jackson received his heart transplant. They came up that morning, and they said Jackson has an offer. He's number one on this offer," recalls Leah. 

Dr. Dreyer calls him a little warrior! 

"His family was great, too! They were incredibly supportive of him. His mom was a very strong advocate for him and made sure that we were on our toes and that we did our jobs. We had a very good relationship with them, and their family's strength just helped carry them through all of this because it was a tough journey," explains Dr. Dreyer.

They also had to deal with an unthinkable complication less than two weeks after Jackson got his transplant when his chest split open. 

"Jackson's sternum had broken open in his skin, and it was devastating to see that it was an emergency. We had surgeons and doctors in the room trying to figure out what was going on and why this happened. It happened because during Jackson's transplant stay, he had to be on high doses of steroids for just about the entire time, which caused his bones to become brittle," explains Leah. 

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Jackson's sternum had to remain open for almost a month and he had to remain under sedation to help heal and prevent more damage. "We weren't sure if things were going to be positive in his outcome. He rocked through it all," says Leah. 

"He was definitely one of the most challenging patients, but at the same time, he was one of the most pleasant patients to interact with," says Dr Dreyer. 

Doctors say it was a community effort of medical workers and loving family members to help pull Jackson through all of this, and his mom says even through all of his medical struggles, he has helped keep her alive. 

"We lost our first son, Marshall, in a car accident when he was 18 months old. Three months later, I found out I was pregnant with Jackson. I was in a really dark place in that time and as soon as I found out I was pregnant with him, it snapped me out of it. I knew that it wasn't just me anymore, that I had to protect my child that was growing within me. His pregnancy saved my life, because I don't know where I would be if I hadn't found out I was pregnant with him," says Leah.

SEE ALSO: Montgomery Co. Cowboy ready to ‘get back in the saddle’ after suffering cardiac arrest

What a relief for her and her husband, Jason, after Jackson pulled through all of his challenges. He alerted all of his family and friends when he got the amazing news that he had figuratively jumped over all the hurdles to leave the hospital. 

"I called everyone and told them, zero rejection, I'd be able to come home soon," states an enthusiastic Jackson! 


He and his mom agree that medical workers at Texas Children's Hospital are more like family to them now. Their loving team sent Jackson out of the hospital with a grand goodbye when he got released. 

"As I walked through those double doors on the inpatient floor, there was a ton of people there just cheering and clapping, and we knew every single one of those faces there, just cheering us on," says Leah. 

She says she'll always be thankful for all the tender loving care they received at TCH, as well as to the donor who lost their lives but saved Jackson's. 

"Forever indebted to them and there's no way I can show how thankful I really am for them," says Leah. 


Now that Jackson's back home, he gets to enjoy his special pet, Itsy. 

"She's a miniature cow," says Jackson. "She's cute, and I love to feed her and love to see her. I also like to feed the horses and help my mom and dad."

His mom says it's almost like the medical crises never happened, and Jackson says he feels good now! He also recently celebrated his 9th birthday! 

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