Clinton family fighting to save their 'miracle baby,' asking for help

Heather Tucker with her son Jackson. (Stephanie Lopez)

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Though Heather and Reginald Tucker are parents of two, they call their 4-month-old, Jackson, their miracle baby. Jackson is fighting a rare type of leukemia.

The Clinton family is looking for a bone marrow match, but Heather says it's not her son's first fight for his life.

"Jackson was truly a blessing, a miracle baby, and when I say that I mean that from deep within my heart," she said.

"We have one other child who is 14-years-old ... we tried to have kids for many years, and we never did and then we find out that we're pregnant and we were just overwhelmed with joy, and excitement, and I mean it was just probably one of the happiest days of my life.

"I had a very healthy pregnancy, and even when Jackson was born we realized how much of a miracle he was because when he was born, his chord was actually tied in a knot, and the doctor told us how amazing it was, that he survived that, so you know that was like Jackson's second miracle, his first was just me being able to get pregnant," she added.

Heather said Jackson seemed like a perfectly happy and healthy baby until an unexpected trip to the ER on Easter Sunday changed their lives, when Jackson - then 2-and-half-months-old - began to feel discomfort.

"We took him to the local ER," Heather said "From the local ER they discovered that he had a white blood cell count that was four times the normal level, at that time they sent us to UNC to do more tests."

"At UNC they were immediately searching for things like stomach issues because that's what we were thinking. They sent us home after four nights at UNC and then the very next day, we got the dreadful call that he had some leukemia cells," she continued.

After weeks of testing the results finally came back to the Tucker family - Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia a type of blood cell cancer so rare, only 1 to 2 percent of children with leukemia are diagnosed with it - a one in a million disease.

According to the Children's Cancer Research Fund, JMML, is a type of leukemia where too many immature white blood cells are made, taking over healthy cell production.

"I kept telling myself and I continue to tell myself each and every day that you know, Jackson is a miracle," Heather said.

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Heather Tucker


THE CURE


"He has been receiving chemo every night for now three weeks," Heather said. "He's done very well on that but the plan for now is for him to receive a central line on Wednesday, and after the central line he will get chemo five days a week and then he will take a 28-day break until we find the bone marrow match."

The Tucker family is looking for a bone marrow match for Tucker, something that could be the cure to his blood cancer.

Heather said their family is hosting a bone marrow drive in hopes of finding his match and they're hoping a wide variety of people show up.

"Jackson being mixed race makes it a little bit harder for him to get the perfect bone marrow donor, so that's why we're looking for all types of ethnicities to come out that day and donate because that's very, very, important," Heather said.

"All you do to get tested for the bone marrow is a simple swab, it takes maybe two to three minutes, they swab the mouth and it's sent off to the bone marrow registry," she added.

Heather said doctors told her they might have a good chance at finding a match in Jackson's older brother, Mason.

"A lot of the times siblings are matches and if they're 10 years older it makes them a very good probability to be a match. Jackson's brother Mason is 14 years older so we know, we were certain that we didn't have any issues, that Mason was going to be a match, that everything was going to work out that way," Heather said.

"But then again 70 percent of siblings or family members are not matches and that was the case for Jackson, his brother was not a match.

"Immediately when we found out that he was not a match, is when we began the efforts to have a bone marrow drive."

The Tucker family also sees hope in a different kind of blood match for their son as well - umbilical cord blood.

"Anyone who's pregnant, I encourage them to go ahead and donate that cord blood because babies or young children can receive a cord blood transplant," Heather said. "And the difference with the cord blood versus the bone marrow is the bone marrow needs to be more of a perfect match, the cord blood does not have to be a perfect match."

"They look for certain markers in the blood and what it has to be is a 10 out 10 match , that's the preliminary match, a 10 out of 10. Once they receive a 10 out of 10 match, of course that person has to come in for further testing to make sure that they are a match," she explained.


KEEPING HOPE STRONG


While the pressure to find a match is on for the Tucker family, Heather said their family is staying strong, comforted by the fact that for now, Jackson is able to receive treatment from home.

"It's been overwhelming," Heather said. "Sometimes it feels like we're living in a nightmare, but I tell everyone that having Jackson home and having him happy, and appearing to be healthy, really gets me through the day."

"I've spoken with some parents whose child has been in the hospital since they were born, and we have been blessed to have Jackson at home and have him happy, and we get to be with him every day, which is a true blessing."

Eyewitness News is a big champion for "Be The Match," and Heather said she's found comfort and support, reached out to mothers of children we've covered before, like the mother of Caden Minnick another local child looking for a match.

Check out Caden's story here.

For now, Jackson is able to receive chemo every day at home in the form of a liquid medicine he must take every day.

"Jackson's leukemia has responded very well to the chemo," Heather said. "His levels have actually dropped which is a very good thing. We're very excited about that."

Heather said their family is determined to make a third "miracle" come true for the little boy they never thought they could have.

"I believe that the Lord will continue to work miracles with Jackson," she said.

"And I believe that the lord will continue to work miracles through Jackson because I not only believe that we're going to receive our miracle, but I truly believe that this has been a very eye-opening experience for everyone.

"I believe that for whatever reason, our family was chosen and I believe that we will continue to try to educate people on bone marrow."

HOW YOU CAN HELP


Only a swab of the cheek is needed to join the bone marrow registry, and see if you could be a match for someone like Jackson.

The Tucker family is hosting a bone marrow registry drive on June 4th at Nissan of Clinton at 412 Southeast Blvd. in Clinton.

Anyone in the world might potentially be a bone marrow match for Jackson, but there's no way the family will know who that person might be if they're not on the registry.

Anyone, anywhere, can join the registry online with Be The Match.

Register with Be The Match online here.

"You can possibly be the cure for Jackson and many other sick people," Heather said. "You can mean the difference between life and death."

UPDATE: Since first publishing this story, Eyewitness News has been contacted by the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank. Jessica Burgess, a spokesperson for the organization, said "any mom that delivers her baby in North Carolina has the opportunity to donate her child's cord blood to our public bank at no cost."

"There are 2 ways she can do this: 1 - If mom is delivering at a hospital where we have CCBB staff, we actually will come into her room and ask her if she would like to donate when she comes in for delivery or 2- if she is delivering at a hospital where we do not have staff on site, she can donate through our kit program, which requires her to contact us prior to delivery so we can ship her a package, she explained.

"Rex Hospital, Duke University Hospital, Duke Regional Hospital, UNC Women's Hospital, Womack Army Medical Center and Cone Women's Health in Greensboro are a few of our staffed sites in the WTVD viewing area."


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