In late January 2013, my 15-year old son Jacob was diagnosed with sinustitus and admitted to the ENT Department at Mater Dei Hospital. After five days of treatment through antibiotics, he suffered severe fits and was rushed for an emergency MRI where the doctors found that the right-hand side of Jacob’s brain was covered in pus. The infection had entered his brain through the sinuses – a rare condition known as meningoencephalitis.
He was immediately prepped for surgery. Within hours, they were performing a craniectomy whereby a part of the skull bone was removed in order for the surgeon to scrape away the pus. Unfortunately, there were also other complications, such as substantial swelling, which did not allow for the missing part of the skull to be replaced. There was also a clot.
Our nightmare had begun as our world came crashing down on us. We were in shock. From leading perfectly normal lives, where our biggest worry was Jacob passing his O Levels… to this.
Doctors gave Jacob a 50/50 chance of survival. The infection was treated with the most powerful antibiotics which, whilst treating the infection, would also decrease his white cell count, thus making him susceptible to other illnesses. The clot was treated with Heparin to thin the blood in the hope that the clot would resolve.
Over the next few weeks, Jacob haemorrhaged twice. At one point, he had three simultaneous bleeds. Every time he bled, he had to go back into surgery to stem the bleeds. In all, he’s had three brain surgeries. Jacob went on to have two bouts in ITU as he fought for his life. We were told to prepare for the worst. But how do you do that?
We stayed by his side day and night and begged rather than prayed to God to save our son.
He heard us.
Jacob survived and went on to spend two and a half months at Mater Dei Hospital, but was then moved onto rehab at Karen Grech Hospital, where he underwent intense therapy for another two and a half months. There, he learned to walk again despite his extensive brain damage.
When he was discharged, Jacob and myself decided to start a support group on Facebook. He had written a letter to another young boy who had also been ill to urge him to never give up. The response was phenomenal, and the comments to my son were so uplifting and full of praise, that by telling his story to this boy, he had not only helped him but also helped himself, and this became the basis of the concept behind Survivors Malta. We believe that by sharing stories of surviving trauma, we can help inspire and motivate others who are going through their own battles.
By helping others, it’s also helped my family heal, and by sharing our experiences, we don’t feel so alone in our struggles, as we know that there are other families just like us. I firmly believe in strength in numbers, and this is what our support group provides.
Jacob has years of therapy ahead of him. Due to the damage, he suffers from stroke-like symptoms where there’s a loss of sensation on the left-hand side of his body. He’s making great progress in his walk. There’s still minimal movement in his left hand and we haven’t been guaranteed that it’ll ever come back, but I refuse to believe that Jacob will cease to amaze us. He’s come so far.
He also returned to school to repeat his last year and sat for his O Levels in 2014. He’s now doing a Business & Commerce course at MCAST in the hope of fulfilling his dream of opening his own coffee shop.
In March 2014, Jacob had another operation whereby surgeons fitted a titanium plate to replace the missing half of his skull bone. He’s now come to be fondly known as Titanium Man – Malta’s very own superhero.
My son has become an inspiration to many. A beacon of hope. He never gives up and strives to accomplish all that he sets out to do, and some of that determination has rubbed off on me. I’ve written a book about my family’s journey called Jacob – My Titanium Man which can be found at all leading book shops in Malta.
Life isn’t perfect. Scars of our trauma run deep and we do struggle to adapt to new circumstances as they arise, but I’m not complaining. Life is wonderful and I am complete because my family is whole again.
Survivors Malta can be found on Facebook. Please feel free to join our group, and if you have a story to tell, please do. That story is a gift to share with someone somewhere out there that needs to hear it.
As my son has grown bigger and stronger, so has our group. We also have a website to further reach out to as many families as possible, and we’ve also enrolled to become an NGO in order to initiate various projects that we have planned in the pipeline, in order to boost the morale of families facing trauma and to offer support throughout their journey to recovery and beyond. Our ultimate mission is to establish a place to find refuge in the real world. It’s a goal that will be difficult to achieve, but as with all survivors, we believe that where there’s a will, there’s always a way, and we refuse to give up until we succeed.