After a near-fatal fall from his skateboard last July, Jonah Prom, 12, and his family, members of St. Francis Borgia Parish, Cedarburg, have become vocal advocates for the use of helmets. Pictured above are parents Jeff and Denise Prom and their sons, left to right, Justin, Jaden and Jonah. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)
Jonah Prom was not wearing a helmet when he fell on his skateboard last summer. The injuries almost proved fatal for the 11-year-old Cedarburg boy pictured here after life-saving surgery at Theda Clark Level Two Trauma Center in Neenah. Since his recovery, the Prom family strongly advocates the use of helmets. (Submitted photo courtesy the Prom family)
By Karen Mahoney
Special to Parenting
CEDARBURG – Jonah Prom has little memory of the Ripstick accident that nearly cost him his life.
The strong and athletic 11-year-old was zipping along on his skateboard on his grandparent’s freshly asphalted driveway at their Shawano cottage last Fourth of July. Exactly what happened next remains a mystery.
According to his parents, Jeff and Denise, in their rush to pack for the weekend, they left behind the helmets that they required their three boys, Jaden, now 6, Jonah, 12, and Justin 14, to wear whenever doing anything on wheels.
“We are a helmet family,” said Denise, “But Jeff’s parents always had a gravel driveway, and we figured that they would be fine without them because the gravel wouldn’t allow for too much speed.”
As a surprise to the grandchildren, Jeff’s parents added the new asphalt driveway from the road down the hill to the cottage, and it quickly became a favorite playground for scooters and Ripsticks.
“In fact, a few minutes after we got there, Jaden went down the hill on his scooter and put the fear of God in me as he came close to biting it at the bottom,” admitted Jeff. “He got a stern talking to, and we decided we would need to go to town to get a helmet for him. For some careless reason, I never considered the same for the older boys.”
Around 3 that afternoon, Jonah was speeding down the hill on his Ripstick and in a flash, his board, meet the concrete apron at the end of the driveway, slid out from under him with nothing to break his fall but his head. Jeff, who was 10 feet away, not only saw his son’s head meet the concrete, but heard it as well.
“This was not going to be good’
“I was by his side instantly, knowing this was not going to be good,” he said. “I was actually somewhat surprised, and thankful at the time that he was not knocked out cold, after seeing and hearing the severity of the blow.”
From the cottage, Denise heard Jonah crying, but at the time decided to let “Dad” handle it as she was generally the one who came running for scraped knees, broken fingers and other accidents.
“Jonah came in the cottage and was frantic and continued to cry about the pain,” she said. “We tried to calm him down and my sister, who is a nurse, was there and helped us to check for the signs of concussion. He wasn’t nauseous, there were no cuts or bleeding, and his eyes looked fine, but he was getting more and more frantic – everyone thought it was because I was getting frantic, so I went outside and called the pediatrician.”
Minutes after learning from the doctor that the family was doing what they should to check for signs of head trauma, Jeff came out and said they were going to the hospital because Jonah was getting delirious.
“I was driving him to the (emergency room) and as we drove, Jeff sat with him, trying to calm him and at the same time trying to keep him awake because he was going in and out of consciousness,” said Denise, choking back tears. “Jeff was so strong that way, he was a rock and I have never loved him more than I did that day.”
Within minutes, doctors whisked Jonah for a CT scan and determined that the blow fractured his skull and severed an artery – internal to the skull but external to the brain lining. With injuries as life threatening as the one that recently claimed the life of actress Natasha Richardson, a ThedStar helicopter arrived to take him Flight for Life to Theda Clark Level Two Trauma Center in Neenah.
At Denise’s insistence, Jeff rode along in the helicopter as Jonah, who was sedated and intubated in preparation for surgery, fought for his life.
Before Denise drove the two hours to the hospital, she began a flurry of phone calls, asking for prayers for Jonah. She remembers falling to her knees in prayer, placing her son’s life in God’s hands.
“I just said, “Dear Lord, Jesus, Mary, all the angels and saints, we need you here now and please come to our son’s rescue,'” she said.
As Jeff flew to the hospital and sat beside his son, he began his own conversation with God.
“I committed to God that if he chose to continue to grace us with Jonah, we will do our best to give him right back,” Jeff said. “To nurture him, to guide him, to support him -to love him as God loves him so Jonah can live a life God wants for him – whatever that life may be. When you are flying in a helicopter, praying next to your child whose life is hanging by a thread, the clarity and purpose of what is important to him and for him gets boiled down to its basic essence. I did not make a deal with God, but more a reaffirmation of a commitment to him.”
Prayers pour in
The prayers poured in and carried Denise and Jeff through the most terrifying moments of their lives. Both said they felt lifted and able to flow with the steps necessary to save their son’s life. And God performed a miracle.
“I didn’t know this at the time, thankfully, but given the amount of blood already in the small space available, there was no way he could continue to bleed until we got him to Neenah,” admitted Jeff. “Had the bleeding continued, it would have pushed onto his brain stem and shut down his organs. Fortunately, and miraculously, the blood clotted and pushed on the artery hard enough to stop the bleeding temporarily to give us time to get to Theda Clark.”
Within 10 minutes after the 20-minute flight to Theda Clark, the neurosurgical team moved Jonah to the operating room, removed a blood clot, measuring 8 centimeters by 2 centimeters in diameter, off his brain, and repaired the severed artery. The next day, doctors brought Jonah out of a drug-induced coma; the following day, he was able to get out of bed and sit for short periods.
“God heard the prayers’
Jonah’s progress was measured in baby steps, in minutes and then hours for signs the medical team needed to determine whether the boy would recover. Each hour was another miracle, Denise said, adding that Jonah’s progress surprised everyone.
“He came out of his coma quickly; he was sitting quickly, communicating, walking in a couple of days and was able to leave the hospital after just five days,” she said. “I honestly and truly believe that the immediate prayers from so many saved Jonah’s life. The blood clotted because God heard the prayers. It clotted because God decided that Jonah was going to live.”
As members of their Cedarburg parish, St. Francis Borgia, rallied around the family and bathed them in prayer, Denise recalled taking a moment on a rainy afternoon to look out the window of her son’s hospital room, which overlooked the helipad.
“I was trying to take everything in, was still in shock, but thankful,” she said. “About 10 minutes later, I saw our former parish priest, Fr. Mike Lightner, come into the room. He was dressed in his leather jacket, with jeans and T-shirt. I ran up to him, put my arms around him, and sobbed.”
According to Fr. Lightner, he had wanted to visit with the family, but he was on his way back from seeing his family up north, and he needed to head back to Milwaukee to prepare for Mass at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, so he knew he wouldn’t have time to come to the hospital.
“He told me that it began to rain hard and since he was on his motorcycle, he pulled over and the next exit was the one for the Neenah hospital,” she explained. “He said, “OK, God, I get it,’ so he came to see Jonah and was a wonderful support for us and prayed with us.”
Prognosis is excellent
Neurologically, Jonah’s prognosis is excellent. While, he is limited in the participation of contact sports for now, he is expected to make a full recovery. The Prom family credits the prayers of hundreds of God’s faithful in the outcome.
“We thank everyone who has shown such compassion and strength and faith in God,” said Jeff. “Their prayers shook the heavens. I believe God is pleased with the faith and strength of his flock and we humbly accept your outpouring of love. It has truly given all of us strength.”
‘Why no helmet?’“Why wasn’t he wearing a helmet?” was the question posed to Denise and Jeff by Jonah’s neurosurgeon, as he stared at the wires, the breathing apparatus, IVs and monitors that kept the small boy alive.
That question has haunted the couple since the day of the accident and both have become vocal proponents of helmets for skateboarding, biking and any activity on wheels.
“We don’t want any parent to go through this with their child, ever,” cried Denise, who has heard many parents complain that they have difficulty getting their children to wear helmets. We can’t prove that wearing a helmet will save a life, but if Jonah had been wearing a helmet, Jeff would not have been riding on that Flight for Life, praying for his son’s life.”
While most younger children willingly don helmets, older children often view it as uncool, and parents often stop seeing the danger or give up the fight. As an incentive for teens to wear helmets when their parents are not present, the Proms are planning to present gift certificates to a local candy store and ice cream shop for those Jonah’s age and older who are caught wearing helmets.
“We are also working on making some local contacts to help with a helmet awareness program,” she said. “There are so many possibilities out there to encourage teens to wear helmets.”
Although the helmets are a non-negotiable with their kids, the Proms realize that other parents battle daily with getting their kids to wear them and willingly offer to share Jonah’s hospital photos to assist parents in getting their point across.
“We keep it simple and suggest you do the same,” emphasized Denise. “No helmet! No wheels! No debate!”
And if you need to appeal to a “celebrity” bike helmet wearer, invoke the name of Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan.
In his first message on the Catholic Kids’ page in June 2005, Archbishop Dolan wrote, “Do you know what I always wear when I go for a bike ride? A helmet. I hope you wear one, too. I know there are some cyclists who don’t wear helmets because they aren’t riding very far or they think they look funny in them.
“Heck, I look funny with my helmet strapped on my large head, but I still wear it. I’m used to looking funny and wearing funny hats! But if I hit a bump and get thrown from my bike, I want to make sure my head is protected. Please, wear your helmet whenever you ride your bike.”
– Karen Mahoney