Daniel Jackson fights

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 19, 1999

for life after accident


Special to The Messenger

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Published Aug. 19, 1999

"When people find out your son is in NICU, they give you the sad eyes," David Jackson said. The atmosphere at Daniel Jackson’s bedside in the Neurology Intensive Care Unit at UAB Medical Center is anything but sad because his mother won’t allow anything but positive thoughts and actions to be relayed to the youngest of her two sons. Each family member takes a turn encouraging Daniel as he struggles to come back from a life-threatening injury. He breaks out in a sweat and Sharon mops his brown as he fights to raise one finger in response to brother David ís asking. He doesn’t smile when told he is successful, but he relaxes and then begins to brace for another attempt.

The Davids, father and son, say Sharon Jackson is an angel, and so there they stand, an angel and two helpers assisting the youngest as he fights to recover from severe head trauma sustained in an automobile accident little more than two weeks ago in his hometown of Troy.

Like Mark Twain, the reports of Daniel’s death have been much magnified in a small town where caring people yearn for the real story. The Jacksons want their family and friends to know that Daniel, 21, is not paralyzed, not comatose and he is very much alive.

As of Tuesday he had begun to move fingers and toes at the direction of his family, mostly brother David, who he seems to respond to the best when commanded, to "move your left pointy finger, Daniel." David, 25, theorizes that kids always listen to sibs better than they do parents. "He said hi to me yesterday with his finger," David proudly reported.

Unit doctors and nurses pay careful attention to what might seem like minor progress to the casual observer, but a lifted finger that is not prompted by touch can be the difference between a heart that sings and one that patiently waits for a sign that life is good.

Sometimes, David says, families might go in and watch and listen with their hearts and can be convinced a reflexive action is a commanded action. The doctors watch and listen with their minds.

"When Daniel started moving his fingers and toes so the doctors could see, we knew that his brain was comprehending what we were telling him and he was processing information to respond," David said. It’s progress the family has waited for weeks.

Simply, Daniel suffered major head trauma in the accident that killed his best friend, Brad Ward, Monday, Aug. 2. The two were returning from Wal-Mart when they were involved in a collision with a tractor-trailer on US Highway 231.

Daniel was airlifted to UAB by helicopter where he has remained in NICU. His brain swelled from the trauma and developed "storms,? which are episodes of aggravated activity such as flailing arms, legs, and involuntary thrashing about. A paralyzing drug was started and Daniel was placed on a ventilator which at first did all the breathing for him.

As his condition has improved and the brain swelling begun to diminish, the storms are lessening in frequency and severity and the ventilator is just assisting with breathing. A tube has been put in his trachea to assist in suctioning fluids and he is being fed fluids through a tube in his stomach. As the brain swelling has been reduced, Daniel is beginning to look more like his old self.

"He looks fine," Daniel’s dad said. "Heís not scarred on his face, his legs and arms are not broken, thereís a cut on his elbow and one or two on his head, but otherwise, his injuries are scrapes and bruises."

It is theorized that Daniel’s head went through the windshield and then his body was thrown back into the passenger seat. Jackson says the family does not know the accident happened and are waiting for the police investigation to be complete.

"We do know they were at Brad’s stepdad’s because he called to tell us afterward that the boys were in the floor talking about the little scrapes they got into when they were younger that parents never knew about," Sharon Jackson said. "One of those true confession things and then they went out to Wal-Mart to play the new Star Wars video game. We got the phone call around midnight that Brad was dead and Daniel was seriously injured."

The Jacksons arrived at UAB to find the trauma team and Doctors Omar Danner and Mark Hadley at work on their son and phones ringing off the hooks with people wanting news about the his condition.

"People here, from the security folks who helped us get across the street into the hospital, to the doctors and nurses, everybody has been so good and caring," Jackson said. He noted that his wife heads up the family support team and shores up the hopes and faith of families in the room outside the Unit where they wait for news, and watch the hands move slowly on the clock.

"Sharon’s faith is what supports us," Jackson said. "She is unshakable," and his oldest son agreed. "Mom is a saint," David said. "Even the people she works with at TSU say she has a halo."

Sharon ducked her head as if to tip her halo to the side and blushed a little. "Not always," she said, "you just don’t know. I do know this and I talked to God about while we were driving to Birmingham. My child is going to get up and walk out of this hospital. I gave him to God in the car if he wanted him because I knew he would be with God always, but then I said to God, ëLet me tell you this. If you don’t take him now, I want him whole.

"And I know that God will make it happen. I am at peace because I know God is in charge."

As she glanced over at the Davids, she laughed because everyone in the waiting room knows that Sharon looks to be rested and prepared for the day, while her husband and son have the haggard looks of those who sleep fitfully.

"She’s an angel," Jackson said. "Weíre helping take care of Daniel and she’s taking care of all of us."

It’s a battle the Jacksons fight as a family with help from Daniel’s girlfriend, Jessica Holmes, who spends the weekends with them at the hospital. As visiting hour approaches, the quiet murmuring of the packed waiting room swells to a chorus of, "we can go in now," as families carrying hope and support march down the hall to meet the loved ones waiting for both.

The Jacksons talk to Daniel, stroke his arms and forehead, remind him of the day and time and where he is, and tell him of the progress he is making. "Daddy’s gonna give you some sugar," Jackson tells his son as he leans over and kisses him on the forehead. This cracks David up who insists Daniel was signaling "don’t kiss me in front of people," but Jackson pays him no mind. Daniel’s mother tells him she loves him and reminds him he is in God’s hand and surrounded by God’s love.

"Daniel has come to know and depend on God these last months," Sharon says. "He’s been speaking at churches and to young people about trouble they can get into if they are not careful and it’s meant a lot to him to be able to do that."

Daniel and his friends, Nathan, Adam, Tyrone and Shane have formed a Christian singing group called Southern Grace and perform at Riverview and Bethel Baptist churches. One of their favorites is "Why Do I Sing About Jesus," Sharon said. "And they are learning more every day about why they sing that song."

As the family prepares to move back again to the waiting room, David can’t resist wheedling his little brother into just one more sign. "Blink your eyes twice, Daniel. I know you can do it."

Slowly the blinks appear along with tears from several spectators and David calls the nurse, another David, over as a witness. "Now do it again for David," he says, and Daniel complies. The effort brings on another small storm, but the family knows the progress is worth working for and soon the young man wired to life-giving and assessing machines settles into relaxation again.

The Jacksons don’t battle alone. Their fight is a community one as evidenced by the hundreds of cards, phone calls and visits they have received from friends everywhere.

They are getting calls from people they donít even know who want them to know they are cared about and prayed for. The outpouring of care has truly overwhelmed them. "This is a good world," Sharon said. Help has come Sharon and Daniel’s employers at TSU and Jackson’s people at Massey Automotive in Andalusia, WTBF, Homewood Church of Christ which has provided an apartment for the Jacksons’ use, a trust fund at Troy Bank and Trust, and countless others who have provided help and support.

Cards and calls may be sent to 205-975-2558 or 2559 or to Daniel at NICU, UAB, 652 West Pavillion, 618 19th Street South, Birmingham 35233.

As the day winds down, big brother, who teaches and goes to graduate school in Germany, tells a story about little brother’s tenacity and willingness to overcome fear and challenge.

"A friend and I were going off the high dive at the TSU pool and we weren’t very old. The little kids were going off the low dive. Now, Daniel’s four years younger than me and so when we saw him going to the high dive, we didn’t know what to expect. He was so little, it took all his arms and legs to climb him up the ladder and then he just stepped out and into space. You should have seen his eyes when he realized he had stepped off the board and he was wearing a smile bigger than his face when he came up for air. I am expecting to see that smile again, soon."

Doctors say Daniel’s progress is on schedule, but how much recovery and how soon is just not possible to know. They do know that each toe wiggle and blinking of an eye brings Daniel closer to that big smile his family longs to see.