My name is Jacob. I’m 33 years old and live in West Palm Beach, Florida. In a nutshell, this is the story about a defining moment in my life.
February 4, 1982:
Born in West Palm Beach, FL.
January 26, 1999:
Just like any other day, I arrived to homeroom 5-10 minutes late. All I heard was noise as the teacher, whose name I couldn’t recall if my life depended on it, reamed me out for being late to class, again. I could hear her perfectly fine, but chose not to listen to the noise coming out of her mouth.I was a 16-year-old junior in high school, who could have cared less about high school… I was more interested in my new girlfriend and my hockey game that coming weekend.
And just like any other random day, after homeroom ended 2 friends and I decided to cut class 2nd period, as we’d done many times before. I’ll call the driver “Mike” and my other friend “Ryan” to explain the story. We often parked in the faculty parking lot, so getting on and off campus was a breeze. We decided to go to my house because nobody was home during the day except my older brother. After playing Nintendo 64 for over an hour (007 multi-player was sweet back in the 90’s), I had to get back to school for a math test, which I had studied zero for. All 3 of us loaded up into Mike’s 2 seater Ford F-150 (no extended cab) and headed back to school, which was only 2 blocks away. At the last minute Ryan decided he wanted to go home instead of school, so we dropped him off at home 2 blocks away. I vividly remember pulling up to his house and letting him out of the truck. What I don’t remember is what happened shortly after. I had hopped back into the car, and within 60 seconds my life was changed forever, in a instant.
Mike and I were close, like brothers. Out of all my friends, I trusted his driving skills more than anyone. But, on this day, 2 blocks away from our high school, he made a mistake, which ultimately left me paralyzed from the waist down.
I honestly don’t remember a single thing about the car accident, absolutely nothing. I don’t remember being in pain, or afraid, or bloody. Nothing… I learned later about what had happened from eye witnesses on the road. Picture 2 lanes going each way. We were in the left lane, cruising at 55-60 mph in a 45 mph zone. Witnesses stated our car was riding extremely close to the rear bumper on the large flatbed truck directly in front of us. Driving this close resulted in limited vision around the sides of this flatbed truck. Mike then decided he wanted to pass the slow flatbed in front of him. So he looked in his right side mirror to see if he could get over into the right lane. He didn’t see a single car next to him, so naturally started to get into the right lane…. BANG!!! He slammed into a huge double entrance community transit bus, which was stopped up ahead in the right lane picking up passengers. He never saw the transit bus because of how close he was to the flatbed directly in front of us in the left lane. Traveling around 55 mph, the front right corner of our F-150 slammed into the back left corner of the stopped bus. As a result of the impact speed, the F-150’s front right tire was sheered off the axle. Mike was wearing his seat-belt and had an airbag, while I had neither. Furthermore, all the impact from the crash was on my front side. The F-150 cabin was covered in blood, and all of it was coming from my face, which had multiple cuts from slamming the windshield. The impact was so great that the dashboard moved toward my chest, pinning me between the console and my seat back. Keep in mind, the F-150 was not an extended cab, therefore my seat-back couldn’t go back any further. Mike says I was conscious and scared, throwing my arms around trying to get loose. To keep me from further injuring myself, Mike wrapped his arms around me to limit movement.I lost conscious shortly after.
When paramedics arrived they had to use Jaws of Life to slice open the damaged door. Once cut open, they are able to pull me free. I was told months later by one of the rescuing paramedics that they thought for sure my right eyeball was somewhere in the car, and they spent time looking for it. I was Trauma Hawked (helicopter) to Delray Medic Center. On the way to the hospital my heart stopped, and needed to be resuscitated multiple times.
Once at the hospital, they realized I had internally torn my descending aorta from the blunt impact of the crash. Very few people live through a torn descending aorta. Therefore, the doctor began preparing for surgery prior to my parent’s arrival and consent.
As soon as I was positively identified my parents were contacted. They were told “Your son has been in a horrible car accident, please come to Delray Medical Center immediately!”….This phone call is absolutely every parent’s worst nightmare. I can only imagine the fear that came over them. Keep in mind, the police officer who contacted my parents said “your son”, never using my name. At the time, my older brother had graduated high school and was still living at home. I was supposed to be in school that day. My parents hung up the phone thinking it was my older brother who’d been in the car accident. The entire ride to the hospital they were paging my beeper (yes, I thought I was cool and carried a beeper in the 90’s).
My girlfriend at the time was best friends with Mike’s (the driver’s) older sister. She was a freshman in college, while I was a junior in high school, so we attended different schools. She came to the hospital immediately once she received word of the crash. My parents were already there, frantically worried. They had seen me briefly while being wheeled into surgery. Prior to surgery the doctor told them I had only a 3% chance of survival. My girlfriend and mother began to cry when they saw each other. While hugging, my mother said to her “Where is Jacob, why hasn’t he returned our phone calls?! It was in this moment my girlfriend realized, my mother thought my brother was in the car accident, not me. With tears in her eyes, my 18-year-old girlfriend had to clarify what had happened. “Janette, it wasn’t Brian who was in the accident, it was Jacob.”
After the surgery was finished security had to clear the halls, which were cluttered with friends and family who had received word of what happened. My girlfriend and best friends were waiting in another branch of the hospital, away from the crowd. By chance, to avoid the large number of people gathered in the halls, the nurses decided to wheel me directly by my girlfriend and best friends. Although I must deal with pain from a 1st person perspective, I wasn’t conscious that day, and I can’t begin to imagine the sadness they felt having to see someone they cared about in that condition.
January 29, 1999:
To perform the surgery I was induced into a coma. Although the surgery itself lasted only 69 minutes, the coma lasted 3 days longer. In my mind I was asleep, at a happy place deep in dreams… I remember thinking softly to myself, “This is such an odd dream” as I chuckled. In the dream there were stickers and wires all over my body. The wires were hooked up to monitors, and the monitors were beeping.“Beep… Beep” .In this dream state I was amused, therefore I proceed to remove the stickers from my chest. The next time I arrived in this dream state my wrists were tied down. Keep in mind I was unaware of the car accident, therefore unaware this was anything other than a unique dream.
Surrounded by family and doctors, I regained consciousness 3 days after surgery. Like it happened yesterday, I remember the doctor asking me “Can you touch your fingertips to your thumb one at a time?” To which I replied, “Of course I can doc”, mirroring his hand movements spot on, almost mocking him. And like it was yesterday, I remember when he asked me “now can you move your legs for me?” My brain began to reply, “Of course I can doc, but my legs remained silent and motionless. I was told of the accident the same moment I began to realize my legs didn’t work.
As the truths began to hit me like a ton of bricks, I subconsciously went to a safe place. I detached to an asylum where the raw pain couldn’t hurt the last bit of innocence I still had as a child. For the first few days I didn’t cry once, emotionally unaffected by the trauma. I would smile, telling myself it would “all be back to normal in a month or 2 tops”. Between the doctors, family, and friends there was no time to reflect because I had so many visitors each day. As hospital days slowly passed, it was the silent nights alone I began to dread….
February 4, 1999:
I was transferred to Jackson Memorial Hospital for 30 days of in-patient physical rehabilitation therapy. During my stay at Jackson I learned the necessary textbook fundamentals of my new life in a wheelchair. Then, during my 8th night at Jackson Memorial I broke down emotionally. Alone in my bed, in the still silence of the night, I realized what had happened. Of all the things lost, the one that could never possibly be given back was innocence. I could close my eyes and dream about running again, but my innocence was taken forever. Then, 30 days later my stay at Jackson Memorial Hospital had come to an end. I remember being terrified as I slowly rolled my wheelchair toward the exit for the final time.
March 4, 1999 to Present:
–Returned to high school senior year and graduated with my class.
-Graduated with a 4-year degree in Business Administration from The University of Florida.
-Started a profitable e-commerce business called How iRoll Sports. We sell adaptive sports equipment for wheelchair & amputee athletes.
-Purchased a house in my hometown West Palm Beach, FL.
I’ve been rambling on, probably boring whoever may have gotten this far.I guess what I’m trying to say is, I made it.The pain and fear could have easily swallowed me, alienating me from friends and family, but I made it through.I dare you to rise to the challenge if you’re a green (new) paraplegic and/or new to a wheelchair.Hopefully, this blog can serve as an informative hub for anyone new to a wheelchair.