I was working the radio on this call

By Liz Neely

February 21, 2007

LA MESA – Hal and Alison Drew have a message for teens: You're not invincible.

For more than a week, the Drews have been keeping a vigil at their 18-year-old son's bed in Scripps Mercy Hospital's intensive-care unit.

Good news came Monday for the La Mesa couple when Jake woke up from the medically induced coma he's been in since Feb. 11. That's the day Jake, his 12-year-old brother, Max, and two friends decided it would be fun to take turns riding a toboggan tethered to a pickup through a school parking lot in Lemon Grove.

“Something like this just came out of the blue,” Alison Drew said. “I'm sure they've never done that before.”

Jake, a senior at Helix Charter High School, has a 4.0 grade-point average. He leads the drum line and pitches for the varsity baseball team. When people heard about his accident, hundreds showed up for an impromptu pep rally at a baseball field.

Jake Drew, 18, has awakened from his medically induced coma but faces a long recovery.

Traumatic brain injury is the No. 1 cause of death and disability in children and young adults nationwide, according to the Illinois-based National Injury Prevention Foundation. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for people up to age 24.

La Mesa teenager Jake Drew suffered a head injury after riding a toboggan in a snow-free parking lot. The extent of damage is not yet known,but his prognosis is good.

Jake's prognosis is good, but he has a long recovery ahead, his mother said. Doctors had to remove part of his skull to relieve swelling in his brain. He's breathing with the help of a ventilator.

The sledding was a spur-of-the-moment idea, Jake's friend Patrick Dexter said. They'd stopped at Patrick's house on the way to play pool that Sunday afternoon. They found a toboggan sitting in the garage and knew Jake had some rope in his truck.

“We just didn't put too much thought into it,” said Patrick, a 17-year-old junior at Helix.

The sled the boys used was rectangular and plastic. They tied it to the bumper of Jake's truck. Jake was the last to take a ride, but the toboggan went out of control, whipping him into a concrete curb. He hit his head and broke his pelvis in two places.

That's how traumatic brain and spinal injuries happen, said Shelly Atkinson, a community health educator for Sharp on Survival. The program tries to prevent these kinds of life-changing injuries by teaching children and teens to think before acting.

“The majority of unintentional injuries happen to children,” Atkinson said. “They want to have fun, feel carefree, and they really feel they are invincible.”

Countywide, car crashes, violence, and sports-and recreation-related injuries are the leading causes of brain and spinal trauma for people up to age 24, Atkinson said. Most of the time, the youngsters weren't wearing helmets or seat belts, she said.

Alison Drew knows those statistics. She's worked as a pediatric nurse at La Mesa's Sharp Grossmont Hospital for 30 years. She recounts the stories to her boys every chance she gets.

But they forget. Or they think it won't happen to them.

Jake is still deciding where he wants to go to college. His mom suspects he'll choose San Diego State University. He's always wanted to play baseball for Tony Gwynn, the former Padres player turned coach.

Among the 350 people who turned out for a candlelight vigil and pep rally for Jake last week were members of his baseball team and band. Teens and parents signed messages on giant cards and posters. They prayed. The Helix High pep band played fight songs.
In a show of solidarity, Jake's brother and some friends shaved their heads. Visitors stream into the hospital waiting room. As of last night, more than 1,000 people had visited a Web site with updates on Jake's condition.

Alison Drew said the support from friends and strangers has been overwhelming. She said she blames no one for her son's accident. She just hopes others will learn from it.

“For goodness' sake, stop and think,” she said yesterday. “It was never going to happen to Jake, but it did. This is not just life-threatening, it's life-altering.”