When she sent her younger child off to college, Mariellen Jacobs had the same worries as any other parent.
Would her son, Clark, work hard in his classes and not party too much? Would he take care of himself and remember to call home once in a while? Would he be safe moving from suburban Cobb County to Georgia Tech’s downtown Atlanta campus?
Never once did she worry about him falling out of bed. But that’s exactly what happened in January 2015 in Clark’s room in the Kappa Sigma fraternity house. As he slept in his full-size loft bed — 7 feet off the ground — Clark fell to hard floor, fracturing his skull. Within days, he underwent emergency brain surgery to save his life, and for several weeks, he was in a coma-like state while recovering. And nearly 15 months later, Clark is still recovering from a traumatic brain injury that could have been prevented, if only there had been a rail in place on his bed.
While her son was learning how to talk, walk and eat again, Jacobs vowed to educate others about the dangers of loft beds. She started an awareness campaign called “Rail Against the Danger,” or RAD. In recent weeks, she has met with the University System of Georgia about her concerns about the safety of loft and bunk beds, both popular on college campuses.
“The safety of our students on campus is our top priority,” Sandra Neuse, USG associate vice chancellor, said in an emailed statement. “We are working with Ms. Jacobs and RAD to ensure our students have information about the risk of falls from lofted beds, and to provide safety rails for students who choose to use them. Student awareness is critical and we would like to thank Ms. Jacobs for her tireless efforts to raise awareness about this important safety measure.”
For Jacobs, it’s worth it to prevent others from injuries like Clark suffered.
“The bottom line is they should have rails,” Jacobs said. “Why would you take the chance? Just protect students and make the beds safe.”
Regulations on types of beds allowed differ from campus to campus, according to results of a University System survey sent throughout the state. At the very least, Jacobs would like students and their parents to sign waivers stating they know the potential risks of sleeping in elevated beds. Bed manufacturers could also help prevent falls by incorporating a safety rail with functional features a college student would want, such as a place to store an iPad or phone, Jacobs said.
In Clark’s fraternity house, the lofted beds allow for extra living space underneath, including a desk and dresser. At 6 feet 5, Clark could easily stand under the bed. When the 21-year-old mechanical engineering major moves back on campus in August, he’ll live in the same house. But this time, his bed will be on the ground.
“Even with rails, no way,” Clark said. “I’m missing out on some of the best years of my life.”
Clark has joined his mother to help educate others, including appearing in a short video on the organization’s website, www.railagainstthedanger.org.
“Think you’re too cool for a safety rail?” Clark says in the video. “Don’t fall for that. Get a rail. It could save your life.”