Jackson Leitch, 14, had a stroke March 4 during his eighth-grade health class at McCleskey Middle School in Marietta. He’d just finished using the treadmill, Robert Leitch said.
His health teacher noticed he was sitting on the ground and began complaining of a bad headache. She called the school nurse who quickly identified Jackson’s symptoms as a stroke and called an ambulance, Robert Leitch said.
“They called us and we met the ambulance at (WellStar) Kennestone Hospital, but my wife and I didn’t know the severity of what was going on,” Robert Leitch said.
When school officials called, they told the Leitches it was a precautionary measure, Robin Leitch said. His parents thought maybe he’d hit his head and gotten a slight concussion.
After doctors at Kennestone did CT scans, Jackson was airlifted to Egleston and his family found out he’d had a stroke.
“Imagine the shock at the news of a stroke,” Robert Leitch said. “When we saw them wheel him in, he couldn’t use parts of his body and we knew this was serious.” Jackson’s parents met him at Emory, after arranging for transportation for their two other children and getting lost on campus multiple times.
“I just literally fell to the ground with the news,” Robin Leitch said. “It hit me like bricks. Nothing ever goes wrong with Jackson.”
Breaking the news to Jackson’s brother Alex, 16, was difficult, Robin Leitch said. “He was so grief-stricken,” she said. “He was so sad and so scared.”
Alex and his sister Cora, 9, stayed with a child life specialist who explained what was going on with Jackson while their parents spoke with doctors, Robin Leitch said.
A rare condition
For nearly three weeks, the Leitch family didn’t know what caused their son’s stroke. He’s now been diagnosed with primary central nervous system vasculitis — a diagnosis he shares with only 700 children worldwide, according to medical sources.
“His immune system went overactive and started attacking itself, and clots formed in the constricted arteries of his brain,” Robert Leitch said. “This was life-threatening.”
Up until a year ago, doctors would have given Jackson a fatal diagnosis, his father said, but now there’s a new steroid treatment to control the patient’s nervous system. Jackson has started the treatments.
He spent the first week after his stroke at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, then moved to Scottish Rite Hospital for intensive physical and speech therapy. He remains at Scottish Rite in all-day therapy, but is able to come home at night, Robert Leitch said.
Making a comeback
Jackson has regained almost all of his control of his right side, which was diminished following the stroke.
“The deal right now is that we don’t know the effects of the brain bleedout,” Robert Leitch said.
“He’s unable to connect his words with his thoughts.”
Teachers from McCleskey Middle have volunteered to teach Jackson — an honor student — at home so he doesn’t fall behind, Robin Leitch said.
“The entire middle school has come together throwing fundraisers for him called ‘Action for Jackson’ and running bake sales,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”
The Leitches welcomed Jackson home last Wednesday, thinking he was out of the woods, Robin Leitch said, but Saturday he began vomiting and was confused.
“It doesn’t feel like this has ended.” Robert Leitch said. “It’s all still in the evaluation phase.”
Until that day comes, Robert Leitch said, the family is trying to determine what their new normal will be.