Premature baby makes whirlwind trip for lifesaving surgery in St. Pete

Jackson Harper is 8 weeks old today, but his story already has a lifetime of twists and turns.

Before Jackson was born, his mother, Jacquelin Harper was told he had a 50-50 chance of survival due to a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), which is a malformation of the diaphragm that results in abdominal organs being pushed up in the chest.

Jackson's parents thought they could increase his odds with a surgery performed by Dr. David Kays at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Dr. Kays has performed around 400 surgeries. He says the program at All Children's has a 95-percent survival rate.

But when Jacquelin went into labor early, the family and his medical team had to scramble.

"Complete panic," Jacquelin recalled.

The plan was for Jackson to be born in St. Pete so he could be easily transferred for surgery. When he was born six weeks early, Dr. Kays and his team flew to Baltimore in a jet with special equipment to keep Jackson alive so he could still get the surgery he'd need to survive.

There was a chilly transfer in Baltimore.

"The blood's running through tubes. It's 34 degrees on the tarmac. That blood's getting cold fast," said Dr. Kays.

They quickly packed into the small jet and cared for Jackson on the flight to St. Pete.

The surgery lasted three hours.

"I'm pretty convinced he wouldn't have made it if we stayed in Baltimore," Jacquelin said.

Jackson has been recovering well, still in the NICU in St. Petersburg. Doctors said they may get to go home to Maryland as early as this weekend.