Clark Jacobs, nicknamed ‘Superman,’ was nearly killed by falling from his bed.
He loved everything about being in college, from studying mechanical engineering right down to sleeping in a bed lofted over his desk and closet at his Kappa Sigma fraternity house.
A 20-year-old college sophomore at Georgia Tech University, Clark was 6’5″ with a solid build. Nothing about him looked fragile or breakable.
Clark had no memory of it, but he had fallen seven feet from his lofted bed one night in January 2015, bashing his head against the linoleum floor below and resulting in a traumatic brain injury (TBI), he told Daily Mail Online.
For the last two years, Clark has spent countless hours in physical, speech and cognitive therapy relearning everything he lost after a fall from bed left him with a traumatic brain injury
Clark’s roommates told his parents that he had spent the night before periodically vomiting – which must have started just after his fall.
In the morning, Clark had a sore neck, the worst headache of his life, accompanied by a small bump on the back of his head.
His mother, Mariellen, drove to the campus from Marietta, Georgia and insisted on taking her son to the emergency room, where doctors discovered that Clark had fractured his skull.
Clark’s doctors figured that he must have fallen hard from the bed, as the skull fracture he was left with looked like one that took significant force to inflict, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
I couldn’t walk or talk. Now I can do those things all the time!
Falling from bed sounds like nightmare of parents of young children, but in fact young adults between 18 and 21 suffer bed-related injuries just as frequently as 13- to 16-year-olds, according to Rail Against the Danger, the nonprofit Clark and his family founded.
In fact, a shocking 450 people die each year from falling from bed, and another 36,000 people under 21 get injured in bed-falls.
Clark was one of those thousands, and his case was dire.
He has had to relearn every skill and ability he spent the previous 20 years acquiring in the span of just two years thanks to a TBI that could have easily been prevented.
There was also a blood clot creeping upward in Clark’s neck when he reached the hospital.
The doctors decided he would need to stay in the hospital so they could keep an eye on him.
After the brain surgery that saved his life, Clark had to have a feeding tube and a ventilator as his body recovered from the trauma he had endured
Clark was not getting better. In fact, two days later another brain scan revealed the 20-year-old was having a stroke, and bleeding out into his brain.
The only chance to save his life would be to operate, immediately – and he might not even survive that.
Surgeons drilled a section of Clark’s skull free to relieve the pressure from his swelling brain in a three-hour procedure.
He made it through the operation, but the damage to Clark’s brain had been devastating.
There were few signs left of Clark himself, just a young man seeming to sleep for weeks, then months, in the hospital as he wasted away to 130lbs – less than half the average weight of someone his height.
His fall had predominantly damaged Clark’s cerebellum, which is the brain’s hub for coordination, controlling voluntary muscle movements and balance.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘little brain,’ the cerebellum plays a role in a wide variety of mental functions, including cognition, speech and emotional responses.
Clark’s fall and subsequent stroke had thoroughly shaken his cerebellum, and every function that goes along with it.
During the months Clark was in bed, the 6’5″ 20-year-old’s weight dropped to just 130lbs
Days full of therapy and the taxing process of his brain healing left Clark constantly exhausted
Every traumatic brain injury is completely unique, and there was no telling what Clark’s future would look like.
Clark spent four-and-a-half months in a coma, with a feeding tube and machine to help him breath.
He should have been in the prime of his life. Instead, Clark was practically a vegetable.
But the time and recovery did wonders for Clark. Small movements became huge sources of hope for his family as they rallied around him at the Shepherd Center in Buckhead, Georgia.
When I started to walk, it felt so wrong and so right at the same time. It was something that felt so foreign, but I also knew I’d been able to walk in the past
He managed to give a thumb’s up, then to rip one of the many plastic tubes running from his body to the medical equipment in the room out. His thrashing meant Clark was still in there.
Once he was stable enough, surgeons operated on Clark again, replacing the piece of bone, called a skull flap, that they had removed months before to make room for his brain’s swelling.
Remarkably, after that surgery Clark started to perk up more noticeably. Before, even when his body would move or thrash, the actions did not appear to register on his face.
After the operation, that changed almost immediately. Clark looked around the room, following movements.
Clark was often confined to a wheelchair and helmet as he regained his balance
As Clark got stronger in physical therapy (left), he started to have better stamina and awareness of his world as well (right)
Once he was able to move home, Clark’s family set up a hospital bed – with rails – downstairs in their home in Marietta, Georgia
Next expressions came back. Clark could smile, a signal to his family that he might be the same person he had been before the fall, but words were a long way off for him.
For Clark, the entire period falls into the ‘black holes’ in his memory, he told Daily Mail Online.
He knows now, though, and even marvels that ‘I couldn’t walk or talk. Now I can do those things all the time!’
Getting there was a monumental struggle, however.
Clark endured eight grueling months of day-in day-out occupational, physical and speech therapy to get him back on his feet again.
School is way tougher now, for two reasons that make each other worse: my short term memory is really poor and I’m fatigued all the time
Of the staff at Shepherd Center, he says: ‘They kicked my butt more than I would wish, but…Oh my god they are amazing.’
They taught Clark to walk, talk and function independently again.
Though parts of Clark’s memory will never come back to him, he recalls the strangeness of experiencing old habits as if they were new.
‘When I started to walk, it felt so wrong and so right at the same time,’ he says.
‘It was something that felt so foreign, but I also knew I’d been able to walk in the past, so it was familiar at the same time.’
Clark was staying with his parents while he went through ‘months and months of horrible, horrific therapy.’
Grateful though he was to them for all of their support and much-needed care, living with them, too, felt like a strange regression for Clark.
‘When I was home, my daily routine was just eat, sleep and therapy,’ Clark says, ‘there was not spending time with friends, nothing like that, no pleasure at all,’ he says.
It took Clark countless hours of work and rest to be strong enough to live on his own, but on August 21 2017 – a day he says he will never forget – he returned to Georgia Tech.
Mariellen pointed to the large brick house where Clark’s journey through a brain injury had begun, a year-and-a-half before.
Slowly but surely, Clark became increasingly mobile and independent, graduating to a wheelchair (left). Now, the 23-year-old is strong enough to stand and live on his own (right)
‘Look Clark, what’s that on the front of the house?’ she said to him.
Hung on the front of the fraternity house was an enormous banner: ‘Welcome home, brother,’ it read.
Hist first two semesters back to school have been difficult, but worth every second for Clark.
‘School is way tougher now, for two reasons that make each other worse: my short term memory is really poor and I’m fatigued all the time,’ he says.
‘The school part is worse, but the life part is so much better. It’s freaking great, just being back in the house, on campus.’
We all experience fatigue, but not the way that victims of TBIs do.
Both learning and healing are extraordinarily taxing to the brain, which, when damaged, is not operating at optimal efficiency any way.
As he continues to recover, Clark will likely feel increasingly energetic, but until then, he keeps unusual hours for a college student, typically going to bed between 8pm and 9pm and waking around three or four in the morning.
But Clark isn’t letting that stop him. In fact, he’s even made a mission out of his injury, advocating for bed rails on lofted beds to prevent life-changing injuries like his.
Right now, he is on track to graduate in December 2019, with a degree in mechanical engineering.
‘I’d say I’m doing pretty well, for what happened. I’ll be a very old graduate, but I have every reason to be,’ Clark says proudly.
Clark was finally able to return to school and his beloved fraternity house in August 2017