Nine-year-old Brandon Jackson can almost twist his lips into a smile.

He'd like to be able to smile - and to eat a pizza, and tell his mommy he loves her.He hasn't been able to do those things because damage to his central nervous system during a difficult delivery left his face, vocal cords and bowels paralyzed.

Doctors couldn't put a label on his problems. They had no explanation why a seemingly healthy 8-pound-2-ounce boy suddenly became a vegetable.

No medical tests were ever conclusive. Lee and Sher-rie Jackson were left wondering why their baby's arms and legs, locked in a fetal position, wouldn't reach out to them.

Why was their fourth child dying before his life had really begun?

"It was pretty bleak what they (physicians) were telling us," Lee said. "All they told us is that someone would have to be with him all the time; someone would literally have to sit over his crib. Everyone felt that he would die quickly."

No one knew if the child lying motionless in his crib could see, hear or feel. Said one physician, "We don't even know if he knows he's alive."

God has a way of making Brandon forget those frightening days. At least most of the time.

The cheerful second-grader has been too involved in being one of the kids at Butler Elementary School. He's been too busy running, wrestling and trying to tell "knock-knock" jokes in sign language.

Since cranial facial specialists at Primary Children's Medical Center surgically readjusted his jaw bones, Brandon's been too busy getting well so he can again be with classmates who have barraged him with get-well cards. He's been too busy trying to speak and chew.

Both functions, physicians say, could now be possible now that his teeth meet in a normal bite. So could breathing through his nose and mouth, instead of through the conspicuous hole (tracheotomy) in his neck.

For Brandon, who for many years lived on liquefied food injected into a stomach tube, those days are too long in coming.

Ironically, it was another handicapped person, a blind naturopath, who freed Brandon's arms and legs through minor adjustments to the skull. The alternations, Lee explained, apparently relieved pressure on the constraining nerves.

"From then on, he began doing normal things, but never in a normal fluid motion," Sherrie said. "It has always been difficult. He has always had to struggle."

When he was 1, tearful parents watched the infant struggle for two hours to reach a pencil. He didn't crawl until age 5. He walked when he was 7.

"It was a long process. But he has so much determination that he has fought, fought, fought," Lee said. "All we have done is love him. He's done everything on his own."

Several times he almost died in the process.

On more than one occasion, blockage in the tracheotomy robbed Brandon of oxygen. His pretty pink skin turned blue, then black, before his mom breathed life back into his little limp body.

"He's faced a lot of trauma. You don't know what it's like to watch him when he can't breathe," Sherrie said. "He grabs my hair and pushes my face down to his throat so I can breathe for him. You don't know how awful it is. His little face is so white; his little hands shake so bad. He's so afraid."

Every day Brandon's family acknowledges the fragility of life. The fear of death is not behind them.

But their belief in miracles is stronger. They've happened time and time again.

Like the day teachers at Jordan Valley School told Lee and Sherrie that Brandon was "soaking up information like a sponge" and should be mainstreamed into a regular school. His brain, they said, was working well.

"We didn't know if he was mentally impaired because so much of communication is expression," Lee said. "He had none. He cried, but he could never smile."

Since the surgery at Primary Children's, Brandon grimaces to try to smile. He wants to laugh, instead of just slapping his leg - jumping up and down - when something strikes him funny.

He wants to throw away the obtrusive necklace, so he looks more normal.

Sherrie wishes all Utahns could overlook her son's peculiarities.

"Some people are so rude. What makes me feel so bad is that none of them know this child who lay there for a year and couldn't even move his finger," she said, wiping the tears from her cheeks. "He has a love of life. I have seen that child so sick time and time again, and he has just bounced back. I think if I had to go through what he has, I would have given up."