Jackson Conquers Surgeries and Ski Slopes

Soon after their son was born, Wendy and Shawnn Flannery received shocking news. Jackson had a serious birth defect: tetralogy of Fallot—four major problems with his heart’s structure.

At just six weeks old, Jackson underwent surgery to repair his heart. Over the next 10 years, he braved several more surgeries at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, including the replacement of his faulty pulmonary valve. This new valve worked well, but at age 15, Jackson came home one day and told his mom that something wasn’t right.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to have anyone else but Dr. Helton for my cardiologist.” –Jackson

“Jackson had run a mile that day, and he said he didn’t feel well,” Wendy says.

It turned out his pulmonary valve had a rare infection, requiring surgery followed by months of rest. Normally active, Jackson pursued new hobbies: painting and playing guitar.

“It was therapeutic, and it helped me through those times when I couldn’t do physical activity,” he says.

On his last day in the Intensive Care Unit, Jackson even serenaded his nurses.

“I wanted to surprise the nurses, who had taken such good care of me,” he explains. “And I wouldn’t have wanted to have anyone else but Dr. Helton for my cardiologist. He is extremely kind and compassionate.”

In March, the Sonora high school student got the green light to get back into sports. Just six weeks after surgery, he took second place in the giant slalom event at a skiing competition.

During the journey to mend his heart, Jackson has touched the hearts of those around him.

“I have followed Jackson since he was a baby, and I feel grateful that he is doing so well,” says Gregg Helton, MD. “This kid is an inspiration for anybody who has had a serious heart condition.”

Indeed, Jackson’s outlook on life reveals an impressively optimistic spirit.

“I was born with an awesome family and a beautiful place to live, so despite my health issues, I believe it’s important to stay positive and make the most of the opportunities I have been given,” he says.