Jacob Fulford is living proof of the power of a mother's intuition.
The 12-year-old son of Jim and Peggy Fulford, Jacob was riding his bicycle in a Kmart parking lot with his older cousin on Sept. 18, 2011, when he hit a curb and flipped forward onto the pavement. The boys were running a quick errand for Jacob's uncle and were not wearing helmets.
Jim and Peggy were summoned by Clay County Fire and Rescue, who found Jacob lying inside the store, crying excessively but otherwise appearing to be unharmed. With no noticeable damage to his body and only a minor scrape on his head, Jacob's behavior was initially attributed more to his ADHD than his injuries. He was cleared to leave with his parents, and the family began driving home.
They didn't go far, however, before Peggy knew something just wasn't right.
"We could not get Jacob to connect with us or calm down," said Peggy, who then told her husband, "You're going the wrong way. We need to get him to a hospital."
Jacob was admitted to Orange Park Medical Center, which conducted a CT scan and found evidence of a fractured skull with bruising and bleeding underneath. Doctors there determined he needed specialized treatment only available at a Level I trauma center, which is designated to treat both adult and pediatric trauma patients. He was transferred to Shands Jacksonville by the TraumaOne flight crew and treated in the pediatric intensive care unit.
Within three days, Jacob's vital signs were stable, and he was eating and walking without assistance. He was cleared to continue healing at home.
Not out of the woods
Just three days later, as Jacob was watching a movie with his parents in their Clay County home, he experienced a sudden and excruciating headache. Screaming and resistant to his parents' touch, Jacob's stiffened body was carried by his father to the car and driven back to Shands Jacksonville, where more bleeding was discovered. It was determined Jacob needed a craniotomy, so urgently that the attending surgeon ordered the procedure to begin with only half of Jacob's hair shaved off in preparation.
"Any injury to the brain may manifest itself again later," explained Joseph J. Tepas III, MD, chief of the University of Florida Division of Pediatric Surgery at Shands Jacksonville. "Because Jacob's parents fully understood this they were able to recognize the situation and bring Jacob back to the hospital immediately for emergency intervention. If they hadn't, Jacob might not be here today. Thanks to their collaboration we were able to yield good results rather than tragedy."
After relieving the pressure and sealing the blood vessel that caused the bleeding, Jacob was transferred back to the pediatric ICU. He once again recovered quickly, having fun with the staff and delighting in the opportunity to choose his meals. "It was like room service to him," Peggy said.
The road to recovery
Jacob finished his treatment at Brooks Rehabilitation and was home by Oct. 1. Although there are a few things he is still not allowed to do, Jacob has returned to a normal life and is back at Seven Bridges School in Orange Park.
"I'm happy to be home so I can play my video games," said Jacob. "But I can't wait to run and swim and ride rollercoasters again!"
Jim and Peggy, who adopted Jacob from Kazakhstan when he was 18 months old, recognize their good fortune and remember nearly everyone who saw their family through the ordeal. From surgeons to housekeepers, they acknowledge the many individuals who worked to save their son, ease their fears and make them feel comfortable.
"We are very humbled. So many families don't have as good an outcome," said Peggy. "Everyone was great and we are so appreciative of the care Jacob received."
However, if you ask many on the TraumaOne team, they will tell you it is a mother who followed her instincts that is the greatest hero of this story.
"The very first rule of pediatric surgery school is mama is always right. Jacob's mother had an intuition that something was wrong and that intuition paid off," said Dr. Tepas.