Jackson Vaughan Endures 2 Liver Transplants

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

STOCKTON, Calif. — Jackson Vaughan has suffered more than any human should.

The righthanded pitcher for the University of Pacific endured not one, but two, liver transplants as a 3-year-old when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called hepatoblastoma.

The two transplant surgeries took place over the course of six grueling days in 2003 and also included a 36-minute period where his heart stopped before it was revived.

Incredibly, he didn’t suffer any brain damage or other internal organ damage due to the length of his heart stoppage.

In all, Jackson was forced to stay at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Pediatric Hospital for four months and then transitioned in and out of the hospital for another 30 days before he could finally go home for good.

The price tag for all of his medical care ran well over $1 million that was fully paid by insurance.

His journey through college as a 5-foot-8 pitcher is riveting as well as he has suffered setbacks but always came back with a vengeance.

Jackson’s dad Jeff explains the series of events that happened to his son as he became the first NCAA athlete ever to play sports after a liver transplant.

“When Jackson was two years old, we noticed a bump on his stomach and took him to our pediatrician,” said Jeff.

“He looked at it and wasn’t concerned at all. He wanted us to monitor it to see if it grew. We went back in a couple of months and told him the bump was still there, and we were still concerned about it. The pediatrician didn’t feel it was cause for concern. He didn’t think it had changed, and let us know that kids sometimes get this.”

“Going into the fall, our entire family got the flu that was going around. It was nasty and hit all four of us. It hit Jackson really hard. He wasn’t recovering and wasn’t eating.

“So my wife Jenny and I decided to take him to a different doctor. We went to an urgent care facility in town. They examined Jackson and didn’t know what that bump was. They didn’t think it was related to having the flu. They told us not to worry.”

After some time elapsed, the family drove to Jenny’s parents for Thanksgiving.

“At that point, we took Jackson to our in-law’s family doctor. He examined the bump and had no idea what it was. But he didn’t like what he saw. He made a few phone calls and arranged for Jackson to be examined the next morning at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Pediatric Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.

“So we went in and met this young doctor. He felt Jackson’s abdomen for about 20-30 seconds. Then he dropped a bombshell and said that Jackson probably has a very advanced tumor in his liver. It was most likely cancer.

“It went from several doctors telling us not to worry…everything is fine…to the worst possible diagnosis a parent wants to hear. After further testing, it was determined that he had a rare form of cancer that started in his liver and spread to his lungs and lymph nodes around his heart.

“In our hemisphere, one in 750,000 kids get this type of liver cancer.”

11 Chemotherapy Sessions
Jeff said that his son then went through a total of 11 chemotherapy sessions. Two thirds of them took place prior to liver transplant surgery.

“The philosophy of what they were doing with this rare type of cancer was to try to shrink it down as small as they could. If you can’t fully get it all with chemotherapy, you have operate and cut it out.

“The hope was that the small mass would be either on one side of the liver or the other. That way, you can get a clean resection of the tumor on part of the liver. Then you go back for more chemotherapy and try to kill whatever is left.

“Unfortunately in Jackson’s case, the tumor in the center of his liver. His only option was to have his liver taken out and have another liver inserted.”

To read more of this article, purchase the April 8, 2022 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.