9-year-old Norman girl diagnosed with Down Syndrome, heart defect as baby now faces battle with leukemia

Kids with Courage

NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – Nine-year-old Jozi Jackson is sitting in her Norman kitchen with her two brothers, deep in concentration as she paints a picture.

The three siblings have spent more time than anyone expected in these kitchen art sessions due to the pandemic.

“Jozi is an awesome girl, she’s really sweet,” says her mother Jolena Threlkeld. “She enjoys hanging out with her brothers.”

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Jolena Threlkeld and her daughter Jozi Jackson.

Jozi’s mom says right from the start Jozi’s life hasn’t been easy.

“Jozi was born with Down Syndrome,” says Jolena. “When she was born, she had atrial valve defect and she had open heart surgery at six months old.”

Jozi grew up with that kind, happy spirit you often see in kids with Down Syndrome, so her mother knew early last year that something had changed with Jozi.

“We started noticing that she was getting really moody and really tired and her teacher started noticing too that she would hold her side like her side was hurting her,” recalls he mom.

Tiny red spots, called petechiae, covered Jozi’s body.

They are a calling card of leukemia.

Jolena remembers, “I just screamed and I cried for my baby. I’ve almost lost her three times in her life from 6 months to the age of 3 and now she has a life threatening disease… leukemia.”

Care and calm soon surrounded Jozi and her family at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital.

“The overnight stay became a week and then the month and then full blown chemo.”

Jozi continued on a road to recovery at Jimmy Everest Cancer Center.

Staff there and at OU Children’s Hospital constantly found ways to lift her spirits. 

She was delighted by an Easter Egg hunt they organized in her hospital room, along with games and art projects. 

“They’re pretty sweet with Jozi, they really are. They always take time out to answer all our questions, and they always have,” says Jozi’s mom. “We’re very fortunate to be here with the Children’s hospital, and close to home.”

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Jozi is now a year and a half into her treatment.

She’s on maintenance chemo-therapy, regaining her walking skills and strength.

This family is hyper alert to the risks from COVID-19.

“We’ll have to be super, super careful. We have to wear masks, even before COVID, we had to wear masks and be super clean as much as possible,” says Jolena.

This family knows that life right now may still contain uncertainty, but with support from their JEC medical team, and love for each other, they’re thankful for each day. 

If you’d like to help children like Jozi fight cancer, consider donating to JECFriends.org.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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