BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (CNN) -- If Russell Jackson has his way, any child who needs medical care but lacks the transportation to get there will have a safe and reliable alternative.
Russell Jackson started Kid One, which has ferried thousands of children to medical appointments.
"We found that there were 80,000-plus children in Alabama living in a home with no car," Jackson says.
"And in the rural areas, there are no cabs, there are no buses, there are no trains. ... Millions of children in our country every day have no access to medical care when they need to reach it."
Jackson is so determined that in 1997 he gave up his career as an Alabama firefighter, moved in with friends and dug into his retirement account to start Kid One Transport, a nonprofit organization that provides rides for needy children in his home state.
In 11 years, Kid One's fleet of vans has ferried more than 16,000 kids to and from scheduled medical-related appointments all over Alabama. Watch Jackson describe the need for medical transportation in rural Alabama »
Jackson never anticipated he would leave the fire department to head up a nonprofit organization. After all, firefighting was the culmination of a lifelong dream.
"What little boy doesn't want to be a firefighter?" Jackson says, laughing.
But an emergency call to his department in March 1992 changed everything. Jackson was dispatched to help an unresponsive 2-year-old who had accidentally hanged himself in the family car while trying to retrieve a toy.
"We did everything that we could to try to revive that young child," he says. The 2-year-old died despite their efforts.
"I took it pretty tough," Jackson remembers. "It's not that I had not been exposed to tragedies before, but this one hit me differently."
At the advice of a counselor, Jackson started volunteer work to help him process his grief. A friend suggested Jackson volunteer in the small rural town of Sayre, Alabama. Jackson was stunned by what he saw just 25 minutes from his home.
"When I drove into the community, it was a world of its own. It was a lot of homes that were deplorable. And that's really the only way I can explain them," he says.
Jackson says he was instantly ashamed by his own comfortable lifestyle. Watch Jackson describe the "turning point" that led to Kids One Transport »
"All it took was the one visit," he recalls, "and I knew I really wanted to come out and work with these folks, hand in hand, and do whatever I could to help make life a little bit easier for them."
When social workers told him about the neighborhood children who had no way to travel to and from appointments for chemotherapy, physical therapy and even for regular checkups, Jackson started driving them there himself.
Before long this one-man operation grew into a 13-van team covering 30 counties. Though Jackson recently stepped down from a daily role in the organization he founded, he says the best part of his work has been meeting the families and witnessing firsthand so many medical transformations.
There were some who learned to speak, another who learned to walk, and others who recovered from life-threatening illnesses -- even when doctors were less than hopeful. Watch a child who relies on Kid One to get to medical appointments »
"I saw so many lives changed, so many determined children and parents who wanted to beat the odds that were against them," Jackson says.
He says he believes that getting them to the care they needed made the difference.
"We're that missing part of the puzzle that is preventing so many people from reaching what we'd consider as world-class medicine. ... To know that they beat it all because of a simple ride," he adds. "That has definitely been worth every bit of founding Kid One Transport."
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