When Courtney Bruns and her husband took their son, Jackson, to the clinic for a check-up, the two-year-old proudly showed off the custom-made red Converse on his feet. He told the desk receptionist that he had gotten new shoes. While Jackson may outwardly seem like any other happy toddler, he has undergone far more blood transfusions and hospital visits than most kids his age.
Jackson was 17 months old when he was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia — a cancer that affects the blood cells — in February 2022.
“It was a lot of disbelief at first; it’s hard to get news like that,” Bruns said of the diagnosis. “Imagine you have a toddler who has such a serious illness. So it was very overwhelming and terrifying.”
Jackson is doing much better now, Bruns told The Jewish Observer Nashville during a phone interview, adding that his hair has begun to grow back in the recent months. To celebrate Jackson’s one-year anniversary of being diagnosed with leukemia, his family hosted a Red Cross blood drive with NowGen, a program for young Jewish professionals.
The blood drive took place March 22 from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Gordon Jewish Community Center for Nashville-area residents. Bruns and the other organizers of the event said their goal had been for at least 30 donors to sign up to donate blood.
“Throughout this past year, Jackson received a number of blood products that ultimately helped to save his life,” Bruns wrote in an email to NowGen. “We want to encourage as many people as possible to donate blood because that small contribution may help save a life like Jackson’s.”
She said she wanted to do something to give back to the community on a larger scale.
“Every time we go into the hospital, we see signs saying there’s a [nationwide] shortage of blood, so we just don’t want anybody to ever be faced with the situation where they can’t get the blood they need to save their loved one’s life,” Bruns said.
Scott Ward-Carriles, Bruns’ brother, started a GoFundMe for Jackson’s leukemia treatment, which is estimated to end in May 2024, according to Bruns. Ward-Carriles said Jackson’s prognosis is favorable, with a 90 to 95 percent success rate, and he is receiving “top-notch care” at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital during his monthly visits.
Bruns said she is grateful for all the donors who gave blood in Jackson’s honor, especially since she and her family live outside of Nashville.
“I think it’s touching because most people in the [Nashville] Jewish community probably don’t even know us since we’re out in Gallatin…” Bruns said. “The fact that people would be willing to donate their time and their blood to honor our child is very touching and heartwarming.”
Read more about Jackson’s story on CaringBridge, an online journal where his mother, Courtney, documents his journey with leukemia.