Saelens is COTR Special Child

jacob saelensIn all of his nine years, Jacob Saelens has proven to be special in many ways.

The U.S. Jones third-grader is the Special Child for the 2014 Christmas on the River. The son of Michael and Brandy Saelens celebrates his birthday Dec. 22, just two weeks after he opens COTR Dec. 3 by flipping the switch to light the Love Lights tree atop Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.

He also is looking forward to riding in the Day Parade on Dec. 6.

Jacob, an avid football fan, always has been special to his family. One of four children, he was born with Hypo-plastic Left Heart Syndrome, which means he has only one ventricle (pumping chamber) in his heart.

Jacob underwent heart surgery before he was born, again at five days old, at seven months, and at age 2 and a half. Jacob’s surgeries were performed in Boston, but all treatment now is being done at the Benjamin Russell facility, a division of Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, his mother said.

The surgery he had at seven months caused a blood clot in his right leg that later had to be amputated. Jacob now walks — and runs — with a prosthetic leg.

His mother said surgeries have rerouted the whole circulation of his heart. Jacob’s disabilities primarily are physical, but there other developmental issues. Mrs. Saelens said he is the size of their 5-year-old daughter Anna Leigh.

Jacob also has a brother Matthew, 7, and another sister, Harley, 13. Jacob is also the great-grandson of longtime BWWMH staple Minnie “Mama” Saelens.

He continues a long line of special children recognized during COTR. The tradition began in 1988 when Caro Osborne “wanted to do something for children with health problems.” Mary Tucker succeeded her as chairman, and Linde McAdams has directed the program for the past four years.

Jacob Saelens throws the breaker to turn on the lights of the Love Light Tree.

Jacob Saelens throws the breaker to turn on the lights of the Love Light Tree.