Like many teenage boys in the smaller towns of Alabama, Jacob Browder’s life was filled with friends, school, football -- and the rodeo. “He has always been a cowboy,” his mother, Susan, said. “He has always had a heart for rodeo.”
He started bull riding at age 13 and participated in 12 competitions, including the Youth World Finals in Texas the summer of 2013. That prestigious event draws competitors from all over the globe and only the best are invited to participate.
Bull riding requires the rider to hold onto the harness with one hand and keep the other hand free while staying astride the bull for eight full seconds. It’s not an easy task and requires a great deal of regular practice. “The only way you can get better is to get on them,” Jacob’s dad, Nicky, said.
It was during one of those practice rides in September 2014 that Jacob’s life nearly ended.
Just a few seconds into the practice ride in a private arena in Fitzpatrick, Alabama, Jacob was thrown and head-butted by the bull. He lay in a motionless heap, knocked cold from the impact. And he didn’t wake up. Despite a lack of phone service, emergency medical personnel arrived at the arena and airlifted Jacob to a hospital in nearby Montgomery. Preliminary tests revealed a broken jaw and a much more serious concern, a traumatic brain injury. He was immediately flown to Children’s of Alabama for specialized care.
Two and a half weeks later, Jacob had still not regained consciousness, was on a ventilator to help him breathe, and his prognosis was dim. But after another two weeks in the hospital, he was removed from the vent and began breathing on his own. At that point, his family and his care team felt the determined young man had turned a corner in his recovery and he began making steady functional progress. Jacob, or “J.B.” as he prefers to be called, was moved from the pediatric intensive care unit to a regular floor.
“I don’t remember anything about the night of the accident,” J.B. said. “When I woke up in the hospital, I couldn’t move or say anything. I kept telling myself that it was just a dream.”
Because his brain was so severely bruised, another two weeks passed before Jacob could
speak, eat or swallow. His brain had forgotten how. Over the next month, though, Jacob slowly regained motor skills through intense physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. “I can remember the day J.B. first blew his duck call after his accident,” Paola Mendoza, M.D. “Although he still could not find his words and had to relearn how to speak and walk, the determined hunter and bull rider in him came out naturally. His family’s constant support and positivity and his unsinkable spirit were truly an inspiration to witness.”
J.B. credits Dr. Mendoza, Dr. Drew Davis and other members of his care team for the progress he’s made, as well as his family. “My mom is my biggest fan and biggest motivator,” he said. “Without her and God, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Jacob still undergoes therapy at Children’s and is committed to a grueling workout at home. He is all caught up in his schoolwork and looks forward to graduating from high school. He finds encouragement through his favorite Bible verse, Deuteronomy 31:6 -- Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.
“We still have bumps in the road,” Nicky said, “but God has placed the people in front of us that we need to help us on this journey.”