Jackson Scharf, Stroke Survivor


It’s common knowledge at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital that 10-year-old Jackson Scharf is a miracle.

“How do you thank somebody for saving your son’s life?” Sandy Scharf asks. “It could have been the exact opposite.”

It all started on a Friday morning in 2016 when Jackson woke his mom up at 5:30 a.m. screaming and crying saying his head hurt. She said while it’s unlike her son to complain, they thought it might just be a sinus headache so he began to get ready for school. While in the shower, he passed out. Jackson was unconscious, but breathing. Sandy told her husband, Greg, that she had to get him to the hospital immediately.

“They carried him in, and we got him into the trauma room,” she said. “At that point, they pushed me outside of the room … his heart had stopped. I told [my husband] that Jackson was gone. It was just such a nightmare.”

They later found out Jackson was alive and stable but had suffered a massive stroke.

Sandy said she and her husband couldn’t fully comprehend what was happening, because to them Jackson was a perfectly healthy kid just like their other three children, Ryan, Alex and Abby. He’d even played football two days earlier and scored the game-winning touchdown.

It was an emotional time for the family and the staff at St. Mary’s Hospital who sprang into action the minute Jackson arrived.

“He came in in cardiac arrest,” said Dan Harper, an emergency department nurse. “It was very emotional … People were crying.”

Since that day Jackson has spent two weeks in a medically induced coma, undergone 10 surgeries, spent six months in hospital and went through a lot of very intensive rehab.

Jackson had to relearn everything, but less than a year later his mom says he’s is back to his ornery self. He has a little bit of weakness on his right side that affects his fine motor skills. But Jackson says he feels good. He’s back to playing sports and video games and says his favorite movie is “Secret Life of Pets.”

Athletic genes run in the Scharf family. Both Jackson’s parents passed that trait along to their children. Doctors say Jackson’s level of physical activity helped him recover to the extent that he did. Victory is a word often used to describe success in sports, but it’s fitting here, too.

“It’s something  you work for your whole career, and you don’t see very often,” Harper said. “We won with him.”

Throughout Jackson’s recovery, the city of Decatur and the surrounding communities rallied behind him. The Scharfs were very humbled and surprised by the number of people who were following his journey. His mom created a Facebook page to keep her family and friends updated. Never did she expect it would receive the attention it did.

“I never thought it would get over 2,000 people,” Sandy said. “What do you say to people that have been so supportive and loving and caring for your son? We all think our kids are special but for people to come out and follow his story. The community has been phenomenal.”

The Scharfs also say they are very thankful for everyone at St. Mary’s, but especially Harper who has a background in pediatrics.

“When a kid comes in, I’m kind of the go-to for that. I’m glad I was here because he needed those skills that I’ve worked for my whole entire life to be able to provide to that child,” Harper said. “When we get this outcome, it’s definitely the ultimate outcome that we would want for anybody, but especially with a child. They’re so young and have such a long life to live.”

The St. Mary’s staff continued to celebrate Jackson’s successes along the way. They also formed a strong connection with him and his family throughout the journey.

“The bond you form with families in a situation like this … it’s lifelong,” Harper said. “I’ll see him 20 years from now and … I’ll remember him. I’ll remember his mom.”

The Scharfs continue to be grateful to the St. Mary’s team for saving their son and say they’ll never be able to thank them enough. But they try. The Scharfs have even come back to the hospital just to visit the doctors and nurse who were involved in Jackson’s care.

“This is what they do every day … but I’ll never be able to thank them,” Sandy said. “To know that he is where he is, it’s the best feeling. To be able to see your kid be a normal 10-year-old kid, that’s what it comes down to.”

If you or a loved one experience symptoms like Jackson and need emergent care or neurosurgical services, call 911 and ask to come to St. Mary’s Hospital.

HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital thanks the Scharf family for sharing Jackson’s story and wishes him a very bright future.