GOODMAN, Mo. —
In April 2011, Freddie Jennings was enjoying life as a 28-year-old American student living in China, but events took a dramatic turn when he fell three stories from his apartment’s balcony while adjusting a clothesline.
Jennings, who hit the pavement headfirst, suffered five fractures to his skull and spent four days in a coma at a Shanghai hospital. It was the beginning of a long struggle, first to survive, then to recover.
Now back in Goodman more than a year later, Jennings said Chinese doctors initially placed him in a large room with other critical patients and simply let nature take its course.
“I was in not really an ICU but a room where they put you to see if you were going to live or die,” he said. “There were about 35 people in one room, and my girlfriend told me she saw six people die while I was there.”
‘I want to be there’
Jennings, a graduate of Neosho High School and the University of Arkansas, originally went to China to teach communications as part of a program offered through Missouri State University in Springfield. He later returned to China on his own, tutoring high school students so they can attend college in the United States.
Half a world away, his mother, Kathy Jennings, remembers an early morning telephone call alerting her that her son had been seriously injured. The days were followed by frustration as she tried to learn more about her son’s condition.
“I want to be there when he wakes up,” Kathy said at the time. “With a head injury, you never know what you are going to have.”
Help came from Freedom Fellowship Church in Goodman, which the family had been attending only a couple of weeks. The congregation took up a collection and came up with $3,000 so Kathy and her husband, Fred, could make an emergency trip to China.
Some of Freddie’s former Neosho classmates also took up a collection to help.
Kathy, who says she has never liked traveling or crowds, was about to get a big dose of both. Freddie says he sympathizes with his parents’ plight.
“When you go from a town of 1,000 to a town of 20 million, it’s a big difference,” he said.