BRADENTON, Fla. — A 19-year-old man who survived a terrifying hit-and-run crash in Manatee County last March is still alive today to talk about the experience and to look forward to his continued recovery.
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While Jack Kelley's hair might be a little shorter and he weighs a little less, his spirit hasn't changed.
The Lakewood Ranch High School graduate is now recovering at home following the February 28 crash, which made national headlines after video capturing the crash went viral.
The video shows a white van turning left into a dark Audi sedan, causing it to tumble multiple times and land on its roof against a concrete wall. Kelley was the sole occupant of the Audi, and was on his way to school when the accident happened.
The driver, who was later identified as 25-year-old Zachari Brock, took off. He was arrested days later and faces two felony charges including driving without a license.
Traumatic brain injury, other injuries
Kelley tells us he has no memory of the crash.
The last thing he remembers was the night of February 27. Much of what he now knows about the 20 days he was in a medically-induced coma he's learned from family and friends.
"They didn't have any way to identify me when the accident happened," he said. "So I was checked into the hospital as 'John Doe.'"
Kelley sustained a traumatic brain injury. He fractured his scapula, along with multiple vertebrae and ribs. While he was in the intensive care unit at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, his lungs collapsed.
"99 percent of people with injuries like that, don't make it," he said. "But I guess I got lucky."
Neurosurgeons performed two risky brain surgeries on the teen and he was forced to get 81 staples in his head. The long scar will soon be covered by his hair that is growing back in.
While he was in a coma, Jack says he lost 45 pounds.
"I was kind of depressed at first, because I was so skinny. The first time I looked in the mirror I was like, 'wow,'" he said.
After spending five weeks at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Kelley was flown to Atlanta to complete a rehabilitation program for people with traumatic brain injuries. He says doctors told him that he likely will not have any permanent brain damage.
He's now in therapy three times a week to work on cognitive functioning.
As for long-term effects, Kelley says he is permanently deaf in one ear and has to give up contact sports. He was previously captain of the Lakewood Ranch High School basketball team.
He says he owes the remarkable recovery to his surgeons and doctors. He also credits a hotel guest who ran to his aid moments after the accident for saving his life.
"He was the beginning of saving my life. If he didn't come out in time, I would have died from the brain injury," Kelley said. "If the EMT'S didn't get me to the right hospital to see the right surgeon at the right time, I would have died. It's crazy."
He's been cleared to run, jump, and even drive. Kelley says he's not quite ready to get behind the wheel, but is hoping to over the next few months.
He has plans to attend Florida Atlantic University in the fall to major in computer science and pre-engineering.
"I'm up for the challenge," he said with a smile.