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'I fought it and I made it' | A Michigan man's battle with cancer and COVID-19

Jackson continues to recover at Mary Free Bed, undergoing speech and physical therapy.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — As Jeff Jackson looks back on his COVID-19 journey, he said he's been blessed. 

"It’s like I had a choice whether I wanted to live or not, and I fought and I made it," he remembers, noting his faith was a large factor in his recovery.

Jackson, his wife and her sister contracted COVID-19 at the end of June. All eyes were on Jackson because his recent multiple myeloma cancer battle made him more at-risk of the virus.

While the rest of his family showed symptoms, Jackson seemed to be doing okay at first.

"It looked liked Jeff was going to sail right through," his wife Freda said.

However, his symptoms eventually hit and ramped up quickly, resulting in Jackson being hospitalized and placed in the ICU at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

Credit: JEFF JACKSON

"If there were 100 people, we’d get usually the 5 to 6 sickest who can't go home. And then of those, he’s probably the sickest of the sick — the top one out of 1,000 COVID cases," said Mary Free Bed Doctor Ralph Wang.

During Jackson's time in the ICU, Freda wasn't allowed to visit, which she said was very difficult.

"I’m not comparing my pain to his, but mine was a different type of pain," she said.

"Hers was worse," Jackson retorted.

At multiple times, Freda recalls having to prepare to say goodbye to her husband from the phone.

"The doctor told us once intubated there was about a 50/50 chance he was gonna make it, so they had him call and say his goodbyes in case he didn't make it," she said.

While Jackson was still under care during his 63 birthday, his family was able to work with Mary Free Bed and plan a birthday surprise outdoors, including an oversized card with a jersey drawn on it representing "Team Jackson." Noting Jackson's love for sports, the card included a score board that read, "Jackson: 1, COVID: 0."

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Jackson continues to recover at Mary Free Bed, undergoing speech and physical therapy; he said he is getting stronger every day. He is scheduled to be released on Nov. 7 and says he plans to watch football on his big-screen TV and enjoy time with his family.

His doctors are urging people who see Jackson's story to continue hope, but said it's also a tale of precaution to stay and keep others safe.

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"If people are just mindful and vigilant and mask-wearing and hand washing and social distancing, that certainly helps the community and everyone around them and also the healthcare workers. Because people are still having heart attacks and strokes and need heart surgery. So we need to be able to do both, but if there’s too much COVID it takes our eyes off the other things that we have to take care of," Dr. Wang said.

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