Cancer survivor, 9, donates toys to children’s hospitals

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A 9-year-old cancer survivor who wanted to donate toys to children who would spend the holidays in the hospital ended up collecting so many that he donated them to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh as well as the Kentucky hospital where he beat his cancer.

"I just really wanted to do something so these kids can be happier on Christmas Eve,” Jackson Nickel said.

Jackson knows a thing or two about living and fighting to stay alive.

His mother, Heather Nickel, recalled the moment everything changed for her and her family.

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“(The doctor) pulled us into the hallway and said, ‘I am so sorry. The biopsy results came back, and Jackson has a very rare aggressive type of cancer,’” she said.

Almost two years to the day of his cancer diagnosis, Jackson looks back on that time with an optimism that most adults would be hard-pressed to find.

“Thankfully, it was Stage 3 not Stage 4,” Jackson said.

At Christmas time in his bed at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, Jackson underwent testing from morning to night. After falling asleep, he woke up to find a surprise that ultimately launched his gift donations.

“In walks someone from our church, and they just put this gift on the bottom of his bed wrapped with a big bow on top. After having such a rough day for him to be able to look down and think, ‘Oh wow, I feel so special that someone would've thought of me,’” Nickel said.

The gift was exactly what he wanted: a Wii. His mother said it was more than that though, calling it a much-needed distraction in her son’s new home away from home.

It was a gift he’s been working hard to return hundreds of times over since then.

“I did this because of kids, and I just really wanted to do something so these kids could be happier on Christmas Eve than ever,” Jackson said.

“He has a different perspective than a lot of 9-year-olds. He really understands what a gift life is and he wants to give back and serve kiddos like himself who are going through a battle right now,” Nickel said.

Jackson has plenty of help too from his brother, Caleb Nickel, and little sister, Emily Nickel, plus the helping hands of his mother and father, who couldn’t be prouder of what he’s done.

“When a group of people show up to your hospital room, and it’s not a doctor or nurse, no one is going to give you any kind of medicine, it just lights up their little world. Even if it’s just five minutes, they have the normalcy of Christmas,” Nickel said.

The Cranberry family plans to surprise families at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Kosair Children’s Hospital with all the gifts they collected this year.

“I think it’ll rise their Christmas spirit up and do a lot of good to them, maybe be their best memory ever,” Jackson said.