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He's a Survivor

Published on Tuesday, December 9, 2014

By: Ruth Cummins at 601-984-1970 or

Published on December 09, 2014

Jacob Partlow was her “miracle baby” the day he was born two months premature, Olevia Williams says.

He was her miracle baby again when he survived respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, when he was just 3 months old.

Today, Jacob is still her miracle baby. Now 13, he’s beaten one of the most severe blood cancers, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and this fall is a seventh-grader at Canton Academy. 

Jacob’s journey has been a tough one. Then again, he’s proven he’s a survivor, his mom says. 

Jacob and his mom, Olevia
Jacob and his mom, Olevia

When her 9-year-old star athlete became too tired to get through taekwondo lessons, play basketball or throw a baseball, Williams knew something was terribly wrong.

They were living in Hattiesburg in 2009; Williams was pursuing a college degree. That June, Jacob “wasn’t himself,” Williams said.

“He was a very active little boy, but he’d gotten to the point where he couldn’t do anything but lie down. He would perk up, but then he would go back down.”

When she tried to get a doctor’s appointment, Williams said, she was told Jacob would have to wait because he wasn’t an established patient. She took him to a walk-in clinic, where a physician said Jacob might be anemic and gave him medications.

But soon after, Williams said, Jacob developed a nosebleed at taekwondo practice.

“We cleaned him up,” his mom said. 

When Jacob went to the bathroom just minutes later, Williams said, his instructor called out to her. Jacob had a huge blood clot in his mouth. She rushed him to a local hospital emergency room. There, she said, “the doctor did not touch him. He just sat on his stool and asked me what was going on. He told Jacob to stop picking his nose,” something Jacob doesn’t do, Williams said. 

That was on a Tuesday. On Thursday, Williams said, she loaded Jacob in the car, drove to Jackson and stopped at a local hospital’s emergency room. 

“We waited for hours and hours and hours,” she said. 

When they saw a physician, Williams said, he said he’d try to get to the bottom of Jacob’s problems. 

“He reached out to grab Jacob’s stomach, and Jacob screamed in pain,” she said.

The doctor quickly ordered blood work, Williams said, then gave her the news: leukemia. 

“He said he was sending Jacob to UMMC, and that they had good doctors there, and that he was going to get the ambulance to take him there,” she said. 

Staff at Batson Children's Hospital rushed him inside. Dr. Rathi Iyer, professor emeritus of pediatrics, confirmed the earlier doctor’s diagnosis, placing Jacob in intensive care.

“She told me how sick he was, and that 87 percent of his blood was leukemia cells,” Williams said. 

Jacob stands at midfield during a 2013 Ole Miss football game as a "kid co-captain."
Jacob stands at midfield during a 2013 Ole Miss football game as a "kid co-captain."

It wasn’t just the leukemia that made Jacob so ill. He lost his gall bladder. He had complications due to his chemotherapy, suffering seizures, neuropathy and short-term memory loss, his mom said.

“He went through a period of depression, because he wasn’t the little boy he used to be,” she said. 

But never did Jacob complain of pain, she said. 

“Jacob said that he knew from the beginning that he’d be all right,” Williams said. “He felt like he’d already made me deal with so much. He felt guilty about so many things that shouldn’t have mattered to a 9-year-old at that time.” 

Said Jacob: “I kept my head up. I knew it would be over with in the long run, so I went with it.” 

Under the care of Iyer and Dr. Gail Megason, also a professor of pediatrics, Jacob reached true remission in 2012, Williams said. “He told me, ‘Don’t worry, mama. It’s over.’ 

“He’s been doing extremely well since he got off his medications. He’s growing. He’s gaining weight,” Williams said. 

“Jacob is a wonderful young man,” Megason said. “He has endured several years of chemotherapy and complications from his diagnosis, but remains cooperative and optimistic. He loves to mentor to younger patients, especially at Camp Rainbow.” 

Jacob trains as a "Pilot for a Day" with the 14 Flying Training Wing at Columbus Air Force Base.
Jacob trains as a "Pilot for a Day" with the 14 Flying Training Wing at Columbus Air Force Base.

This year, Jacob has the honor of serving as Mississippi’s Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Champion. He’ll be the ambassador for Batson Children’s Hospital and all of Mississippi’s sick and injured children.

Each year, the Champions program identifies a child in each state with a remarkable medical story. Champions and their families travel to Orlando, Florida and Washington, D.C. in the fall to highlight the vital work taking place at children’s hospitals. 

“I really enjoy being champion. I like the honor, and I never thought it would have happened to me,” Jacob said.

His summer before school started was full: a Caribbean cruise with family. A week-long basketball camp. And soon his first trip to Disney World as part of his Champion duties. 

“I’m helping my mom around the house, too,” he said. 

Jacob sees Megason for checkups as he continues the busy life 13-year-olds should enjoy. 

“They were always asking how I was doing,” Jacob said of his two doctors. “They always took care of me.”

Jacob Partlow Videos

Video available at, search channel for “leukemia”

Video available at, search channel for “Partlow”


2000 Champion: Jonathan Albright


Diagnosed with infantile ulcerative enteritis soon after his birth, Jonathan Albright wasn’t supposed to make it.

Doctors at Batson said “to enjoy every moment that we had,” Jonathan’s mom, Lorrie Whitfield, remembers. “He was in the hospital for a year.” 

But 16 surgeries later, Jonathan today is a busy 16-year-old who lives for “either doing something with basketball, or being with his girlfriend,” said Whitfield. 

Jonathan was honored as the 2000 Champion and still makes regular visits to his pediatrician, Dr. Will Sorey, professor of pediatrics. He's a junior at Central Hinds Academy in Raymond.

2004 Champion: Amy Kuhn


Amy Kuhn is planning her wedding and wants all her doctors from Batson to be there, because, she says, they’re the reason why she gets to walk down the aisle.

When Kuhn was 15, doctors at Batson diagnosed her with Burkett’s lymphoma, a cancer that spread throughout her abdomen.

“I had major surgery and started chemo on Easter Sunday,” Kuhn said. “I lost my hair, 61 pounds and my ability to walk.” 

As the 2004 Champion, Kuhn said, she got some great medicine, including lots of time on a trip to Washington, D.C., with fellow Champions coping with similar life-threatening conditions.

2006 Champion: Lindsay Smith

Lindsay Smith has always been a history buff, but during her sophomore year in high school, her own history changed.

"We’d been working on our band routine and I had typical anemia symptoms: out of breath, very pale, just wanting to lie on the couch,” said Smith, 25, now a graduate student at the University of Alabama.

Her pediatrician sent her to Batson and staff stayed late to run lab work so she and her family could get a fast diagnosis of leukemia.  

She began chemotherapy, and was hospitalized almost continuously for almost 8 months. They got the all-clear signal in May, and Smith was honored to serve as the 2006 Champion.

2011 Champion: Sydney Gholar


When her 14-month-old baby’s urine wasn’t quite the right color, UMMC nurse Vikki Gholar picked up on it immediately.

Gholar, manager of talent acquisition in the Human Resources Department, said of Sydney, “She had several tests with her pediatrician, and he sent us to Batson.” 

She was diagnosed with Wilm’s tumor, a cancerous growth that wraps around kidneys. Sydney started chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor so that it could be removed. 

Sydney served as Champion in 2011 and was delighted to attend a celebration in her honor at the Sam’s Club in Jackson. Today, she’s an active 10-year-old in fifth grade at Jackson Academy.