Daryl Jackson, owner of West Hartford’s Chick-fil-A franchise, and his wife, Gabrielle, have personally donated $100,000 to support other families whose children must remain in the NICU at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
By Ronni Newton
In the winter of 2017, as he was preparing for and then opening his Chick-fil-A franchise, life – to say the least – was a whirlwind for Daryl Jackson.
He had just moved to a new town, had a stressful new job, and his first child was due in mid-March.
On March 11, everything changed.
Daryl and Gabrielle Jackson had moved to West Hartford from Alabama in late November 2016, leaving the house they had purchased just months earlier. Daryl, a Connecticut native who previously worked in manufacturing finance at United Technologies and Stanley Black & Decker, had been working as CFO for Berkshire Hathaway’s Marmon Group in Alabama.
On Oct. 31, 2016, Daryl learned that he had been awarded the West Hartford Chick-fil-A franchise. Hoping to return to the northeast, in December 2015 he had decided to apply with Chick-fil-A after being inspired by the experience of Wallingford owner/operator Todd Langston, who was his former Stanley Black & Decker colleague. Between 20,000 and 30,000 people apply for the opportunity to become a franchise owner every year, and Daryl knew it could take two or more years to get through the vigorous vetting process. His approval was much faster.
Other than a foot of snow delaying the West Hartford Chick-fil-A opening by one day, everything was going well. The pregnancy was relatively smooth, the Jacksons had rented a nice house in West Hartford, and their teenage nephew was living with them.
Daryl and Gabrielle Jackson have been married for six years, together for 17 years. “This was our first child. We had been trying for a long time,” Daryl said.
On March 11, about a week before her due date, Gabrielle became concerned when she stopped feeling the baby moving as much as usual. The doctor told her to eat, which had worked several weeks earlier when she had similar concerns. This time it didn’t make a difference.
“Around 6 p.m. we went to the hospital,” Daryl said. He said that a heart monitor was attached in the emergency room of Hartford Hospital, and they saw the baby’s heartbeat.
“We felt relief at first, but then the doctors and nurses, they were pointing at the screen and I saw their faces change,” Daryl said. “Someone said, ‘We’re going in now,'” and Gabrielle was wheeled away for an emergency c-section.
“We came to get things checked, not to have a baby,” Daryl said.
As quickly as possible, the medical team delivered Olivia, whose umbilical cord had become wrapped around her neck.
“The night she was born, my wife was still under anesthesia, and I went in to say goodbye to Olivia,” Daryl recalled, tears filling his eyes. “She was on the table. She was gray. They were breathing for her.”
Then he had to go see Gabrielle, who was just coming out from under the general anesthesia that had been administered for the emergency surgery. The two cried together.
Neither could believe what had happened. “She went in pregnant, and came out [of anesthesia] thinking the baby wasn’t going to survive,” Daryl said.
The doctors transfered Olivia to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) – which is located at Hartford Hospital. They weren’t optimistic about her chances, but they tried to do what they could to save her, all the while thinking it was likely she had sustained brain damage. Among other treatments, the medical team used therapeutic hypothermia, a cooling process that has been shown to reduce the chances of brain damage in babies deprived of oxygen at birth.
“I got on Facebook, asking people to pray,” Daryl said. His pleas quickly spread, and he said he received an incredible outpouring from people all over the world, from as far away as Israel and Brazil.
“Each passing day they were still telling us she wasn’t going to make it through the night,” Daryl said. On day three, she first opened her eyes.
When Olivia was five days old, it was time for another meeting with the medical team. “I remember turning to Gab and saying, ‘This meeting needs to happen because when she makes a full recovery we will all know it was nothing but God,'” Daryl said. “That element of faith, that’s what I latched onto.”
He continued to share his story through social media, with some videos getting as much as 10,000 views. “With each passing day, she kept passing all of the tests they were giving her,” Daryl said.
Olivia showed no signs of seizures. The doctors were worried about her other organs, like her kidneys, shutting down. “When we saw her urine, we were celebrating for days,” Daryl said.
In the meantime, while both Daryl and Gabrielle were spending every waking moment (as well as the few moments when they actually slept) at the hospital, he had his brand new business to worry about. Except that the Chick-fil-A organization stepped up and made sure that wasn’t a worry.
“When we were going through all of this, the brand, the company I worked for, they were terrific,” Daryl said. His restaurant had only been open for a month, but they sent a certified trainer in to run the store. That person took care of things for the entire time that Olivia was in the hospital.
Even the president of Chick-fil-A reached out personally, Daryl said. “I am so fortunate to work for a company that cared.”
Three weeks after she was born, Olivia came home to West Hartford with Daryl and Gabrielle.
On Sept. 11, Olivia turned six months old.
Daryl said that she shows no signs whatsoever of any lingering problems. “Unless you call grunting or putting something in her mouth, or getting cranky after 6 or 7 p.m.,” he joked. “She’s a delight in the morning,” he quickly added.
Shortly after they were settled back home with their daughter, the Jacksons started talking about giving back to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. They have since met many people whose children started off life in the NICU, and were planning fundraiser event nights at Chick-fil-A, but Connecticut Children’s asked if they would personally make a donation.
Daryl said he and Gabrielle discussed it. “We wanted to do something, to the extent that we could, that would make an impact,” he said.
On Sept. 1, Daryl, Gabrielle, and Olivia delivered a ceremonial check to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. The $100,000 personal donation, matched by Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, led to the establishment of the Daryl and Gabrielle Jackson Fund.
“We said we want it to help the families,” Daryl said. Not everyone is as fortunate as they are, and some babies have to stay even longer than the three weeks that Olivia was in the NICU. One of them was there for all but a few hours while Olivia was a patient, Daryl said.
“It really broke my heart to see where parents could only come in for a few hours to hold their babies,” said Daryl.
The donation will be used to purchase furniture to make the space for families more comfortable, and for transportation as well as other funds that families need during the time that their babies are in the NICU. He plans on holding multiple fundraisers so that more money can be raised.
Daryl said that they have continued their relationships with the NICU nurses, who still call Olivia a “miracle baby.”
Those on the medical team were the instruments that saved Olivia, but Daryl said he strongly believes that prayer played a large role. “God is real. There is no doubt in my mind. The power of prayer, I believe in it,” he said.
Daryl loves his job owning the West Hartford Chick-fil-A. He’s also operating the Chick-fil-A concession at the Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field and has some other business plans in the works.
The highlight of his life, however, comes when he see Olivia at the end of the day. “It’s Christmas every day I get to go home. Now I really understand parenting.”
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