As a newborn, Jackson Merriss wasn’t supposed to survive.
Once he did, his parents were told they’d be lucky if he’d ever recognize them.
Then he wasn’t supposed to be able to walk or talk.
But the 8-year-old Easley boy defied all the predictions and has become a pretty good one-armed golfer as well.
“He loves it. It’s everything to him,” said his dad, Todd Merriss, who plays golf with Jackson and his twin brother, Caden, every day.
“He did ‘Drive, Chip & Putt’ this last year and came in fifth out of 20-some kids,” he adds, beaming with pride. “He’s going to end up beating me one day. I can promise you that.”
Jackson’s struggles began when he and Caden were diagnosed in the womb with Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome, a condition affecting identical twins where one gets too much blood and the other not enough, their mom, Laurie, said. At the time, she was 15 weeks pregnant.
“Theirs was so severe, they were both basically failing,” she told The Greenville News. “And at 16 weeks, we were sent to Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati where we had fetal laser surgery.”
The idea was to reroute the blood to the one not getting enough, which was Caden, she said. Once corrected, the Merrisses returned to South Carolina.
“The likelihood of leaving Cincinnati with both twins wasn't good," she said. “We were blessed to leave and be pregnant.”
Up to God
Back in Easley, Laurie went on bed rest. Then her water broke at 24 weeks and she was hospitalized until the boys were delivered four weeks later.
Both infants had to be on ventilators and Jackson also had a serious blood infection.
“During that first night, we didn’t think he was going to make it,” his mom said. “But they stabilized him and three days later realized he had had a major stroke. At that point, we were told that ... if we kept him on life support, we’d be fortunate if he could recognize us and speak.”
But Todd, who is the manager at Dixie Lumber in Easley, and Laurie, area director of sales with Kindred Hospice, decided to keep him on life support and whatever happened would be up to God.
And Jackson rallied. Then the tiny baby had surgery to place a shunt in his brain to drain excess fluid associated with his hydrocephalus.
The medical fight left him with cerebral palsy.
“This was a child that they said would never walk or talk, and at best might be able to recognize us,” she said. “Apparently, they were very wrong.”
Caden was hospitalized for two and a half months and suffered no lasting effects, she said.
Jackson was released after three months and a month later began a variety of therapy that has made a huge difference, as has having a brother to compete with, she said.
“When we prayed to God for our twins to arrive we never said they had to be perfect,” Todd said. “They are more perfect in every way than we could ever ask for.”
The Merrisses, both 45, also have two college-aged sons, Caleb and Josh.
The twins are now in the third grade at Forest Acres Elementary School, though in separate classes because Jackson is about two years behind developmentally, Laurie said.
But from the time he could walk, his dad put a plastic baby golf club in Jackson’s hand and he’d practice in the living room.
He was a natural.
“He lives and breathes for golf,” he said.
Eventually, Todd took him to the links. He plays in US Kids Golf using only his left arm, having adapted to his limited motor skills. And his dad says he’s down the middle on the green and putts really well.
“He’s battling not only the muscle restrictions but the learning disability as well,” said Todd, who frequently posts videos of Jackson’s link-side achievements on Facebook to raise awareness about cerebral palsy.
Boy with Cerebral Palsy Finds Strength Through Golf
“He loves to compete and all the kids enjoy playing with him because he’s so lighthearted. He knows he can’t run as fast,” he adds. “But as long as he’s part of the team, he’s happy. He’s just having fun. And he has got a laughter that would light up the entire room.”
Todd takes Jackson out to the course every day, where they play for at least an hour. And the weekends bring tournaments they all look forward to.
“Walking down the fairway caddying for your son, and he grabs your hand and just walks with you,” he says, overcome with emotion. “It’s a true pleasure to watch him play.”
October 6 is World Cerebral Palsy Day.