Tarkington boy gets drive-by parade after year-long stay in hospital

The Ward family - Jason (center), Leah, Mae and Jackson - wave to participants in a drive-by parade in Jackson's honor on Dec. 21.

Eight-year-old Jackson Ward could only smile and wave as vehicles passed by his Tarkington home during a drive-by parade in his honor on Dec. 21. One day earlier, Jackson returned home following a year-long stay in Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston where he was treated for heart failure and eventually received a heart transplant in October 2022.

As his immune system is still fragile, the drive-by parade was the best way for the Tarkington community to show its love and support for Jackson, his parents, Jason and Leah, and sister, Mae. Pct. 5 Constable David Hunter, Tarkington Fire Chief Paul Gregory and Jason’s co-workers at Conroe ISD Police Department were among those participating in the parade, as well as the local UPS driver, Karena Hunter. Friends and family members of the Ward family held up signs for Jackson and yelled greetings as they passed.

“We really appreciate everyone’s prayers and support throughout this ordeal,” said Jason.

Pct. 5 Constable David Hunter leads the drive-by parade in honor of Jackson Ward.

Jackson’s medical crisis began at birth. He was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), a condition that affects 1 out of every 3,841 babies born in the United States each year, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We knew at some point his heart would fail. It’s about 15-30 years on average with the surgery. Jackson just didn’t make it to that average time,” said Jason.

In September 2021, the Wards found out that Jackson was in heart failure. On Oct. 6, he was placed on a mechanical heart that made it impossible for him to leave the hospital for more than a few minutes at a time, though he was able to participate in field trips within the hospital as long as a power supply was available.

Because Jackson yearned to be outdoors, Jason said TCH installed electrical plugs in an outside area just for him. The mechanical heart – a Berlin Heart – supported Jackson for 358 days until he received his heart transplant. A few days after the transplant, another medical crisis arose when the wires holding his chest together broke through due to Jackson’s steroid-induced osteoporosis.

“We were told it would be another 2-3 months of recovery time in the hospital after that. We honestly didn’t expect to be out of the hospital in 2022, so we were surprised when we were released on Dec. 20,” Jason said.

This year was the first time in two years that the Wards were able to celebrate Christmas at home.

“It was nice to be at home, all four of us together. During his hospitalization, I would take his sister down there on weekends. We had Christmas at the hospital last year,” Jason said.

So what does the future look like for Jackson now? He still faces occupational therapy, plastic surgery and wound care, and he will have to have lab tests regularly to check for signs of rejection and periodically undergo biopsies. Jason said the medical checkups will be pretty steady for a while, but the best case scenario will have him undergoing quarterly exams and yearly biopsies.

“We are going to homeschool him for a couple of years. Illness can really throw some kinks in so we are going to try to avoid that. Hopefully in a couple of years, we will get him back into public schools,” Jason said.

Jackson is hoping to one day be a police officer like his dad and to help his father as he volunteers for Tarkington Volunteer Fire Department. Previously Jason was an active volunteer but had to step into a reserve role when Jackson’s medical problems arose.

When asked if the Wards needed more support from the community, Jason said that a generous benefactor has already stepped forward.

“We have a benefactor who wants to remain anonymous. This person stepped forward to help with bills. We don’t know when it will end but we are grateful,” he said.

Photos from the parade:

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