Brian and Kathy Jackson had prayed for years that the Lord would bless them with children, and the prayers of the home-educated couple had been gloriously answered as they anticipated the birth of their first child. The Jacksons, however, thought they were months away from seeing the little one who had been growing in the womb for less than twenty-two weeks. But such would not be their lot. Little did they know that they were about to experience a time of hope and heartache, joy and sorrow, and rejoicing and trial which would challenge and increase their faith beyond anything they had ever imagined. Neither did they realize that, in answering their cry to Him for a child, God would give them the opportunity to witness to both unbelievers and many professing Christians who had become confused and even callous about the sanctity of human life.
On January 26, 2006, Kathy began experiencing physical problems and went to visit her midwife for a checkup. After examining her, the midwife found that Kathy was dilated almost three centimeters and that the amniotic sac was partially through the cervix, a condition known as incompetent cervix.
With this condition there was a grave danger that early labor might ensue. Since the amniotic sac was in the birth canal, there was also danger of infection as the amniotic sac might be weakened due to bacteria naturally occurring in the birth canal.
After visiting her midwife, Kathy was taken immediately by ambulance to a hospital in San Antonio, Texas where steps were taken to stabilize her and to check on the health of the baby. Kathy was experiencing regular contractions. A sonogram revealed that her baby was healthy, weighing 1.6 pounds. He was head down in the womb which would allow for birth without cesarean should Kathy go into labor. The Jacksons’ unborn son was estimated to have been in the womb for twenty-two weeks and four days, an estimate that would later be revised downward.
A Day of Great Trial: The Hospital Disregards Life and Liberty
The next day would be one of great trial for the Jacksons. Quiet and soft-spoken father Brian Jackson would later describe it with understatement as a “rough day.”
Early that morning, Brian and Kathy were visited by the hospital’s social worker, who wanted the uninsured family to agree to take Medicaid and SSI. Brian refused, explaining that he could not in good conscience accept state welfare assistance because of his conviction that this was not the jurisdiction of the state. Brian expressed his intention to pay the hospital all it was owed, explaining his understanding that the Bible placed this responsibility for payment first on him, with extended family, the local church, and ultimately the church universal coming alongside to help him, if necessary. The social worker pushed hard for the Jacksons to change their position, but they remained firm.
This would not be the only point of contention. A few minutes after the talk with the social worker, the doctor treating Kathy hinted to the Jacksons that the hospital’s neonatologist might not try to save their son if he were born prior to twenty-four weeks. When the Jacksons pressed her for an explanation, she responded evasively. The Jacksons were quickly becoming alarmed at the direction things seemed to be going and called a local nonprofit ministry, which referred the family to attorney Don Hart for assistance. Don agreed to represent the Jacksons and began to advise the Jacksons on how to proceed.
A few hours later that same day, Brian and Kathy were visited by the chief of staff of the hospital’s neonatology unit. Upon entering their room, he stated his name and began his remarks with this statement: “Let me paint you some pictures of what may happen if you go into labor right now.” The doctor then grimly described the problems a premature baby might face. He told the Jacksons that if their son was determined at birth to have been in the womb for more than twenty-four weeks, then all action possible would be taken to save his life. He then stated bluntly that if it was determined upon the child’s birth that he had been in the womb for less than twenty-four weeks, the baby would be made comfortable until he died.
The hospital official said these things to both Brian and Kathy with no apparent regard for how his comments might affect Kathy’s condition as she lay on strict bed rest, with her feet elevated, on medication directed toward stopping her contractions. Kathy was on the verge of going into the labor, which if initiated, would be—according to this doctor’s casual statement—signing her baby’s death warrant.
The Jacksons were in a state of shock at this revelation, and Brian, following both his own strong convictions and Mr. Hart’s advice, made it clearly known that he and his wife did not consent to this approach: that it was completely unacceptable for the hospital to passively permit their son to die, and that they expected and required the medical staff to take every action possible to save their baby’s life, regardless of when he was born. He also made it clear that he was prepared to hold the hospital accountable for disregarding his direction regarding care for his wife and son.
The doctor replied with dour statistics: if their son was born before twenty-four weeks, he would only have a 30 percent chance of survival and a 10 percent chance of a “quality life.” Brian remained firm, insisting that every effort be made to save his son’s life, regardless of the emotional or financial cost.
The doctor then attempted to guilt-manipulate the Jacksons, arguing that the couple would be “torturing” their son if they tried to keep him alive if he was born with less than twenty-four weeks of development in his mother’s womb. He described as “torture” a scenario in which the baby would be on a respirator, undergoing constant tests, requiring umbilical IVs and tubes down his throat.
During his dialogue with the Jacksons, the doctor did not offer one word of hope or encouragement to the expecting couple. He described only negative, gloomy possibilities of the worst scenarios which might arise if Baby Jackson was born early, seemingly ignoring the obvious truth that life-saving medical treatment for any soul is often difficult, invasive, and uncomfortable.
Throughout this conversation, Brian continued to insist that his son be treated as a viable baby whose life was worthy of protection regardless of when he was born – that the only acceptable treatment was to do all possible to save his son’s life. As Brian continued to press for assurance that this would be done, the doctor grew evasive and refused to affirm that he would treat the baby in accordance with his parents’ wishes.
At this point, Brian informed the doctor that he could expect to be contacted by his attorney; that he and his wife would not consent to any treatment other than taking all possible action to save the life of their son and provide him with the treatment that any baby considered “viable” would receive. To this the doctor replied, “That’s fine, and I will bill you for dealing with your attorney,” after which he stormed out of the room.
A Mercy of God: The Hospital Agrees to Fight for Baby Jackson
Following this interchange, the search began immediately for a different neonatologist, and an investigation commenced as to the possibility of relocating Kathy to a different hospital. Yet in considering all the facts, it was determined that moving Kathy posed an unacceptable risk in triggering premature labor. She would have to remain where she was. Given this scenario, the family, with the assistance of attorney Don Hart, made the hospital and doctors involved pointedly aware that the only acceptable treatment option was to do everything possible to preserve the life of their son.
It was also necessary to let the hospital and medical providers know that their actions would be scrutinized very closely (and critically evaluated in terms of medical ethics, medical standards, and the hospital’s legal duty) and that they would be held strictly accountable for their actions if they did not follow the wishes of the parents. After intense confrontation and the Lord’s mercy in allowing the baby a few additional days in the womb, the hospital and its neonatal chief of staff finally agreed to take all steps possible to save the life of the Jacksons’ unborn son.
A United Front: The Community of Saints Rallies Behind the Jacksons
Meanwhile, word about the Jacksons had spread through parts of the Christian community, and many prayers were being offered on behalf of the family. Their church was praying faithfully and working tirelessly to bless and support them. The families of Brian and Kathy were united in their support of them in seeking to save the life of their son. Attorney Don Hart and others were standing with them, both in prayer and in actively fighting alongside them in the battle for the life of their son. Local churches in Texas and around the country were praying earnestly for their family. As the Lord began to graciously answer these prayers in the midst of an outpouring of love from their brothers and sisters in Christ, the Jacksons were greatly encouraged.
Victory in Jesus: The Birth and Early Life of Nathan Valor Jackson
God allowed the babe to remain in the womb until February 6, 2006. He was born at 23.5 weeks, well short of the 24 week minimum initially required by the hospital as a condition to providing life-saving medical care. He was born at 2:04 in the afternoon and weighed 1 pound 7 ounces. He was 12 inches long. His parents appropriately named him Nathan Valor.
Nathan spent more than four months in the hospital. During that time, he and his family were bathed in prayer. He had successful heart surgery and healed beautifully. He endured struggles too numerous to describe, and by God’s grace and mercy, he withstood them all. He learned to breathe, and he learned to eat. He made miraculous progress which defied medical understanding and won the hearts of the nurses who cared for him. He was tested on multiple occasions for the eye problems that always occur with babies born so early, and the problems were found and documented. Christians joined in prayer for him, and when the leading expert in treating these problems examined him to evaluate what type of surgery he needed, the problem was gone. In the understanding of the doctors, it was not medically possible for this to happen, but the Jacksons and their Christian brethren understood the power of prayer and that all things are possible with the Great Physician.
Another Standoff: The Hospital Threatens Custody Battle
The day began to approach when Nathan Valor could actually go home, but the challenges for the Jackson family were not at an end. Despite the high-ranking hospital staffs’ expression of admiration for the Christian convictions of the Jacksons in their stand on paying his bills privately (instead of allowing the taxpayers to cover them through welfare programs), the hospital decided to make another effort to pressure the Jacksons into taking Medicaid. And why? If the Jacksons submitted to this pressure, the hospital would receive its payment more quickly. Thus, the hospital elected to pull out all the stops to accomplish this goal.
The Jacksons were informed that if they did not change their minds and accept welfare assistance, their son would not be released to them. They were told that Texas Child Protective Services would be called in and would take custody of their child, since no medical providers could be expected to work with the Jacksons unless they were on welfare assistance. The hospital which had earlier fought to kill Nathan Valor if he was born too early was now threatening to kidnap him unless paid a welfare-funded ransom.
After dropping this bombshell on the young parents, the hospital asked for a meeting with all interested parties to discuss Nathan Valor’s discharge. The Jacksons attended, accompanied (much to the chagrin of the hospital) by their attorney, Don Hart. Upon learning of Mr. Hart’s presence at the meeting, the neonatal chief of staff refused to attend. When confronted with their unconscionable behavior in threatening to take the Jacksons’ son in order to extort payment via welfare, and when called to task for the absurdity of their feigned surprise that the Jacksons would seek legal assistance in the face of such actions, the hospital officials had little to say. Not surprisingly, the bully tactics stopped, and no mention of CPS involvement was ever made again.
The Ongoing Grace of God in the Jackson Family
Nathan Valor Jackson was discharged from the hospital on June 9, 2006. At discharge, he weighed a healthy 10 pounds, 11 ounces. He was taken home by his Momma and Daddy, where he has thrived and grown and developed into a strong, sweet, manly little fellow who is now the protective and beloved big brother to his younger brother and new baby sister. He loves to go with his Daddy and help with Daddy’s work which includes, among other things, helping to manage wildlife resources on a large Texas ranch. The eyes which the doctors said would never see are incredibly bright and sharp, and the tongue that the doctor said would never speak delights in describing such Texas tongue twisters as javelinas and coyotes as he spots them even before his sharp-eyed Daddy.
At the time of his discharge from the hospital, Nathan Valor’s parents wrote the following in gratitude:
[blockquote5]Kathy and I would like to thank you for your prayers and for giving of your time and finances to help our son, baby Nathan Valor Jackson… A very special thanks to Don Hart for his continuing support, legal counsel, and management of the Nathan Valor Fund. We praise the Lord for bringing Nathan home and giving us the strength to make it through this trial.[/blockquote5]
A Message from Don Hart
Nathan Valor Jackson and attorney (and rancher) Don Hart work cattle together.