Back in class after fall from bed: Tech student overcomes brain injury

Georgia Tech student Clark Jacobs hangs out in his room at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. Jacobs is back in school after cracking his skull in January 2015, when he fell out of his bunk bed. The mechanical engineering student isn’t taking any chances and now sleeps on a bed below his assigned loft. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM
Georgia Tech student Clark Jacobs hangs out in his room at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. Jacobs is back in school after cracking his skull in January 2015, when he fell out of his bunk bed. The mechanical engineering student isn’t taking any chances and now sleeps on a bed below his assigned loft. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Clark Jacobs doesn’t remember the night he fell from his bed. But the 21-year-old will never forget his journey to recovery from the traumatic brain injury he suffered in that 7-foot fall to the floor.

In January 2015, Jacobs fell from his loft bed in his room in the Kappa Sigma fraternity house at Georgia Tech, fracturing his skull. An emergency brain surgery saved his life, but left the thriving college student helpless.

He would have to re-learn how to do everything, including how to walk, talk and eat. Even for a young man whose nickname is Superman, this was no small feat.

As he fought to regain his life, Jacobs had one major goal: Get back to school. This week, the mechanical engineering major went back to class.

“I walk with my own two feet, unassisted,” Jacobs said. “Boom.”

Earlier this month, Jacobs moved back into the fraternity house for the first time in 20 months. Every bedroom in the house has full-size loft beds. And since his fall, the beds now have wooden safety rails. But Jacobs isn’t taking any chances.

“No way,” he said.

His roommate sleeps in one of the lofts, but Jacobs’ loft is empty. On the floor in front of the room’s large window is an extra-long, twin-size bed where Jacobs now sleeps.

“It’s super-comfortable, so I’m not complaining at all,” Jacobs said. A full-size refrigerator and a panini maker for weekend sandwiches make it the perfect living quarters for two college friends. Thursday afternoon, former roommate Ryan McDaniel stopped by to visit.

McDaniel never heard Jacobs fall from the bed, but the next morning, he remembers Jacobs telling him he had a headache. It was a Saturday, and Jacobs had his dad pick him up and take him back to the family’s Cobb County home. The next night, a WellStar Kennestone emergency room doctor was shocked by the diagnosis.

A fractured skull would have required a violent blow to the head, the doctor said. Scans also showed a brain bleed and symptoms of a stroke.

“If we don’t operate, he won’t make it,” the doctor told Jacobs’ parents. “If we do operate, he might not make it. We have to try to save Clark’s life.”

Jacobs survived and was later moved to the Shepherd Center for months of rehabilitation. His family and friends were terrified, anxious for Jacobs to recover, though doctors and therapists warned there was no way to predict it.

“I was scared,” Ryan said. “It wasn’t clear at first what was going to happen.”

Jacobs’ recovery consumed the lives of his parents, Ron and Mariellen, and older sister, Kelsey. With each new accomplishment — baby steps or eating solid food — Jacobs proved he was a fighter, and his parents and sister were his biggest cheerleaders.

Mariellen Jacobs used her son’s injury to spark a call for action. She started 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.

She and her son have shared their story with the University System of Georgia, which now has a plan in place to offer rails for beds.

“By spring, every college campus in Georgia has to have them,” Mariellen Jacobs said. “They’ve got to be available and they’ve got to be free.”

Last week, Jacobs and his mom visited Georgia College to give a presentation to students on the importance of safety rails. Mariellen Jacobs is hopeful the campaign can get national attention so that no one else has to share her son’s ordeal.

Clark Jacobs wants his personal testimony to serve as a lesson. But for now, he’s focused on returning to college life. He’s taking two classes this semester, and Friday night, his fraternity is planning a party, along with several others, to celebrate the end of the first week.

“I’ll never again be ‘old’ Clark,” he said. “I’ll be new-and-improved Clark.”

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