It took Clark Jacobs seven years to earn his mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech. But he had a pretty good excuse for the delay.
“I took the stroke detour,” Jacobs joked recently.
Jacobs, 25, is lucky to be alive. And his journey to his college diploma is one he and his family wouldn’t wish on anyone.
In January 2015, the then 20-year-old Jacobs fell 7 feet from his loft bed in his fraternity house to the linoleum floor and fractured his skull. He also suffered a stroke and underwent two emergency surgeries before spending months at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center.
Jacobs would have to relearn how to do everything, including how to walk, talk and eat. The recovery from his traumatic brain injury was exhausting. Jacobs later returned to his family’s Cobb County home and later to campus, eager to resume his classes. In August 2016, he returned to his fraternity house, but with his bed on the ground.
“I walk with my own two feet, unassisted,” Jacobs told the AJC at the time. “Boom.”
As Jacobs met his goals, his mother took on a goal of her own. Mariellen Jacobs wanted to prevent anyone else from experiencing the ordeal her son and her family endured. She used her son’s injury to start an awareness campaign called “Rail Against the Danger” or RAD, determined that no one else would have to endure a brain injury because of a lack of bed rails on loft and bunk beds.
Those efforts have paid off. In fall 2019, rails became a safety feature on any public college or university bed higher than 36 inches off the ground on Georgia campuses.
“It’s a big step but it’s not enough,” Clark Jacobs said.
The Jacobses would like to see rails become part of all loft and bunk beds on campuses everywhere. Clark’s injury could easily have been prevented, they said. Instead, he’s had to fight his way back, taking only one or two classes a semester while still dealing with lingering fatigue from his injuries.
This summer, Jacobs took his final class. Tech doesn’t hold a summer commencement, and because of the pandemic he isn’t sure when he’ll walk in a ceremony. But completing his degree required Jacobs’ determination, so he and his family recently celebrated that accomplishment with a Tech banner, balloons and cake.
“It still doesn’t seem real,” Jacobs said. “My sights were very much focused on getting my diploma. Now my sights are focused on getting a job.”
But that’s a good problem to have, Jacobs said. It’s his next step in a journey delayed by a catastrophic injury.
“I’m relieved to not have to be the old man on campus anymore,” he said. “But I’m gonna miss being a student.”