The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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August 1, 2012

Rummage sale to benefit Joplin accident survivor

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Like most parents, Paula and Terry Mitchell are full of compliments about their son Jake.

He was good with his hands, they said. He loved helping people. He was working toward an engineering degree through Vatterott College.

But all of that has been put on hold as the 22-year-old recovers from a May 2 traffic accident that left him with injuries so severe that recovery will likely take years.

“This has really messed him up,” Paula Mitchell said. “This kid has been through the wringer. He basically lost his whole life.”

To help the family try to cope with mounting medical and living expenses, their friends will put on a rummage sale this weekend in Joplin, with all proceeds going to the Mitchells.

Jake, who had been riding all sorts of two-wheeled vehicles since he was 5 years old, was westbound in May on Seventh Street in Joplin on his Honda Shadow motorcycle when a car pulled in front of him from the parking lot near Toys R Us.

Jake was wearing a helmet, but the wounds from the crash were extensive: Traumatic injury to both sides of his brain. A broken ankle. A collapsed lung. An injury to his right arm that is still somewhat of a mystery.

His father, who had stopped at Wal-Mart after work that evening to buy Jake a new phone as a replacement for one he had accidentally smashed that morning, came across the traffic jam at Seventh Street and Range Line Road in his own vehicle. When he saw the accident, his whole world changed.

“Then I see his helmet laying there, and I knew that was his motorcycle under that car,” Terry Mitchell said.

Jake spent 23 days in a coma at Freeman Hospital West in Joplin before being transferred to Mercy Hospital in Springfield. He was released July 23 and is now a patient at Ozark Neuro Rehab Center in Springfield, where he has up to six hours of physical, speech and occupational therapy each weekday.

He tentatively is scheduled to be released from the rehab center near the end of September, although his stay could be extended if his therapists deem it necessary.

The effects of Jake’s injuries will be long-lasting, his parents say. He has problems walking and is expected to receive a prosthetic attachment for each leg. He can’t use his right arm, and an upcoming MRI will help doctors take a closer look at his right shoulder, which smashed into the vehicle during the accident. He can’t swallow. His vision, speech and ability to write have all been compromised by his brain injury. His mother said that although his prognosis looks good, recovery could take three to five years.

The brain injury also left Jake with a weakened filter on the way his mind controls his speech. He often says things without thinking or, perhaps, without even realizing initially what he’s saying.

When he was asked how he’s doing, for example, Jake said after a brief pause: “I’m kind of p----- about my bike. It’s like if somebody came to my house and stole it. It’s basically the same equivalency.”

It’s true that he misses his motorcycle; in general, he misses being able to drive, which he is not allowed to do. But he later offered a second response to the question, after some gentle reminders from his mother about how blessed he is to be alive and how the family members’ faith has helped them through the ordeal.

“When I woke up (out of the coma), I was p----- off that God could do this,” he said. “And then I realized it’s just something that happened.”

Jake’s family also has not survived his accident unscathed. His parents, who lost their 8-year-old son, Gary, in an accident involving construction equipment in August 2009, have devoted all their time to Jake’s care. While their house in Joplin is inhabited during the week by some of their other adult children, the couple and their 5-year-old son, Sheldon, live with Jake in a house in Springfield so they can take him to his therapy appointments each day.

“It has changed the entire family dynamics,” Paula Mitchell said. “You’re used to your life revolving around a 2-year-old, but he’s not — he’s 22.”

Money has gotten tight for the Mitchells. The $25,000 that the insurance company of the other driver will pay for the accident will go to Medicaid, which will put it toward Jake’s medical bills. Any expenses beyond that amount will be up to the Mitchell family.

Because Jake requires constant supervision, there is no steady source of income now. Terry Mitchell, who owned a construction company with Jake, has essentially stalled his business to be in Springfield full time with his son. He even recently found himself pawning his wedding ring — which he had worn for the duration of his nearly 25-year marriage to his wife — to get some extra gas money for the commutes between Springfield and Joplin.

Jake, his parents say, hates not being able to work and contribute to his family.

“He feels like it’s his fault that we’re going through what we’re going through,” Terry Mitchell said.

But Paula Mitchell said she is blessed that her son, who doctors initially thought would never walk or even be able to recognize his parents, is alive today.

“It’s a blessing from God that he can do anything,” she said. “We really believe that God will heal him in his time.”

Benefit sale

A rummage sale will begin at 7 a.m. Saturday at 2005 S. Murphy Ave., six blocks east of Maiden Lane. All proceeds will go to Jake Mitchell and his parents, Terry and Paula Mitchell, to help them with their living expenses as Jake undergoes extensive rehabilitation in Springfield.

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