Everybody has battles to fight but one of my best friends, Jaclyn, has had more than her fair share.
When Jackie was five, she was diagnosed with a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a problem in the left ventricle. After the diagnosis, Jackie was not allowed to do any strenuous activity, which meant that while we spent summer nights running around catching fireflies, Jackie had to sit and watch.
A few years ago, the doctors decided Jackie needed a heart transplant. In a desperate attempt to boost her morale, her parents bought her something she had always wanted: a horse. This expense, along with her father’s job loss in the aftermath of 9/11 and Jackie’s constant medical bills, left her family of six in a financial rut. To help, my friends often helped pay her horse’s board.
That summer was hard, to say the least. We did everything to make Jackie as happy and comfortable as possible, but we could see her heart was failing. Jackie had trouble breathing and had to stop every few steps to catch her breath.
One day in late September I went to the barn after school, where we all congregate. Three of my friends had tears streaming down their faces, and everyone else was laughing and joking. I asked what had happened and the answer made my year.
The night before, Jaclyn had received a call saying that a donor heart was available if her family got to the hospital immediately. As she was wheeled into surgery, her last words were instructions on caring for her horse. Even now, that memory makes us smile.
Jackie, new heart and all, spent 10 days in the hospital. We called her every day and sent a big picture of all of the “barn brats” smiling and waving.
The minute she got out, Jackie was at the barn, saying hi to all of us and finally seeing her beloved horse. For the next three weeks, we all had to wear face masks and sanitize our hands before we went near Jackie. Still, these precautions seemed trivial - we had our best friend back, better than ever.
The next few months were amazing. Jackie was beautiful, and could do so much more than ever before. She ran around at top speed for 20 minutes straight, and rode her horse like it was nothing. We watched as she grew stronger and happier every day, and I think that was the highlight of our lives.
Watching Jackie return from her deathbed was the most amazing thing I ever witnessed, and I thanked the God I had never believed in every night for giving me back one of my best friends.
November and December passed fairly uneventfully, but at the end of January Jackie was hospitalized again. She had been having bad stomach pains and the doctors couldn’t figure out what they were. In February, Jackie was diagnosed with post-transplant lymphoma disorder, a form of cancer caused by the high dosage of steroids. She was hospitalized for a month and received many doses of chemotherapy. She was terribly weak and her body was having problems accepting her new heart and fighting off the cancer at the same time.
When the news came to the barn that Jackie was again close to death, we prayed every night that He would save her. We traveled to prayer sessions, held our own, called Jackie, sent her cards and tried to visit her. That was the longest month of my life. I kept imagining a scene over and over in my head with my parents telling me that the cancer had won, that I had lost Jackie.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen and Jackie returned home. She was still on chemo, but we could see her again. She seemed to know how close to death she had been. Right after her sixteenth birthday, she got the thumbs up from the doctor. Now, three years later, she’s still cancer free, and we all hope to God she’ll stay that way.
I think this experience has taught a rowdy bunch of girls to appreciate life and everything that comes with it. If anything, this whole ordeal has made one 16-year-old love her friends more than ever, because in life we don’t get very many second chances. Jackie, heroic Jackie, has luck on her side because she got two.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.