STOCKTON, Calif. —Since he was a toddler, Jackson Vaughan defied massive odds against him. Diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, the 3-year-old underwent chemotherapy and two liver transplants.
The Central Valley native is now going against the grain again, becoming the first NCAA Division I baseball player to have undergone a liver transplant.
By his coaches’ and teammates’ accounts, Vaughan is an amazing pitcher.
“He’s got something special and we knew it kind of from the beginning, as he has things you can’t teach,” Dan Jaffe, a pitching coach for the University of the Pacific baseball team said.
What sets Vaughan apart is his drive, as Hayden Pearce, another pitcher for the team recounts.
“Never quit standing, keep fighting. The sea will get rough, that’s for sure, but someone’s got to make it through it,” Vaughan said.
The Bakersfield native said he almost died, but a Stanford Children’s health doctor refused to give up.
“He looked above my bed and saw like a little polaroid picture of me playing with a plastic dinosaur, and said, ‘I’m going fight for this kid,'” Vaughan said.
While Vaughan doesn’t remember much from his fight against cancer, he said the love and support from his family helped him build hope growing up.
He does recall, however, his first swing at sports. He had tried tennis at first but said he wasn’t good at that, moving on to baseball around the age of 8 or 9. Even then, he said he wasn’t very good at it.
Despite his initial struggle with it, he said found a way to get better. Knowing that he was fortunate to have received two transplants helped fuel his motivation.
“I need to work my absolute hardest in order to show my gratefulness, to show how appreciative I am of this gift,” Vaughan said.
With developed skill, he tried for the team at the University of California at Santa Barbara, but he said he wasn’t chosen to join. Undeterred, Vaughan decided to play at Delta College in Stockton, where he had been noticed by the UOP team.
The 21-year-old player is now a junior at UOP, studying geology where he maintains a 4.0-grade point average. He’s now on a mission to beat the odds once again.
“The chances of surviving Stage 4 liver cancer at age 3, with two heart attacks with 46 minutes cardiac arrest, pretty slim. The chances of making it to the MLB, pretty slim. I think I can do both,” Vaughan said.
Vaughan said he is at a higher risk of getting melanoma. With that in mind, he makes sure to protect himself with sunblock. His cancer is in remission and he is healthy.
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