It is uncommon, perhaps even unheard of for a man to say that other than, marrying his wife and the birth of their child, having cancer was the best thing to ever happen to him; but, for Jack Simmons, non-Hodgkin lymphoma was a “true blessing.”
At age 14, Jack Simmons was excelling tremendously on the football field; however, a collarbone injury at spring football practice sent him to the hospital. A routine x-ray revealed something disconcerting and a biopsy was performed on the lower, right-side of his neck. A lump, the size of an egg was discovered and Jack was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Thirteen years later, Jack is cancer free, but once again found himself consuming the sounds, sights, and people of Cook Children’s; his experience with non-Hodgkin lymphoma prepared him for the initial trial he and his wife, Rebecca, would endure at the birth of their first child.
The angst and confusion that enveloped Jack as a boy is still engrained in his memory. “I was too young, naïve about the nature of cancer, and unaware of what was happening,” Jack said. “People kept telling me that I was ‘courageous,’ but I was just doing what I had to do.”
Cared for by Paul Bowman, M.D., pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Cook Children’s, whom Jack regards as, “the best doctor in the United States,” the Simmons family knew their son was in good and experienced hands. “Dr. Bowman was very humorous, caring, and optimistic, but he was also realistic about things and that is what I needed. I wanted a doctor to tell me the truth, but always look at the bright side,” Jack said.
Dr. Bowman chose an extremely aggressive protocol- 14 months of chemotherapy accompanied by lots of rest- no school, football, or time outdoors. Over the course of that year, Jack spent about 70 days at Cook Children’s Medical Center and was in and out of doctor’s appointments. “While on chemo, I felt terrible overall; I remember a lot of fatigue, stress, and pain, but I had tremendous support from my family, as well as the kind and knowledgeable staff at Cook Children’s who made having cancer easier,” Jack said.
Jack and Rebecca’s romance developed in quintessential fashion; they met at the wedding of mutual college friends, she initially ignored him, but by the end of the wedding they found themselves enjoying each other’s company, and the rest is history. Too cute, right? The love Jack and Rebecca share is unmistakable and sincere- the kind of love truly capable of moving mountains and overcoming all obstacles.
As Rebecca phrased it, her pregnancy was “normal, exciting, and perfect. I was never sick. I could be pregnant all of the time!” The day before the expected due date, concerns of high blood pressure emerged and the doctor wanted to induce Rebecca’s labor. Doctors struggled to find a heartbeat and Jackson Simmons was delivered with his arm against his neck and the umbilical cord wrapped around his head and neck. No crying was heard. The body of newborn, baby Jackson was limp.
Anxiety and terror overcame Jack and Rebecca as a nurse hit a large button on the wall of the delivery room. Sirens reverberated throughout the hallway and doctors rushed to the Simmons’ aid.
“After six or seven minutes, the doctors were able to get Jackson breathing, but warned of potential brain damage,” Rebecca said. “The team of doctors in the Baylor NICU made it very clear that Jackson needed to be transported to Cook Children’s as soon as possible.”
Within a few hours, the Cook Children’s Teddy Bear Transport Team had arrived. Before their departure, the Teddy Bear Transport Team took Jackson to Rebecca’s room so that she could see her son for the first time. “I knew we had a long road ahead of us, but being able to see Jackson was a very important and happy moment,” Rebecca said.
The first few days of Jackson’s life were extremely scary for Jack and Rebecca. Jackson was placed under a hypothermia (cooling) blanket to cool his core temperature and temporarily decrease oxygen consumption, to limit any brain damage which may have occurred. Jackson experienced a few seizures and then his brain activity began to increase. By the third day, Jackson’s core body temperature began to rise.
“I would rather take a bullet for my son than see him suffer. During my time at Cook Children’s I developed a sincere appreciation for life and an understanding that the people here truly care and want to help kids get better,” Jack said.
Jackson remained at Cook Children’s for 12 days; he has appointments with his neurologist, Howard Kelfer, M.D., every six months and has begun to talk and make sounds like the other children his age. “When the time came to choose a pediatrician, Dr. Kelfer referred us to the pediatrician of his own children- that is all the assurance we needed.”
Rebecca and Jack call Jackson their “Miracle Man.” Seventeen months later, he is a jovial and spirited toddler with a contagious giggle and infectious warmth. “Jackson is truly a miracle and we accredit it all to the incredible doctors and nurses at Cook Children’s. This is a wonderful place, filled with great people who really do care. A year and a half later, Jackson’s nurses still remember him and will rush out to see him when we visit,” Rebecca said.
“Things come into our lives that are extremely difficult and if we let these things beat us, we are not doing what the Lord calls us to do,” Jack added.
Jackson and the entire Simmons family are filled with hope and life. Jackson and Jack both overcame conditions on their lower, right necks to become shining examples of how to never take life for granted. Expecting another baby boy, the future is ripe with excitement.