While an accident in January nearly took Jaelen Child's life, he was able to use his crutches to walk across the stage and receive his high school diploma from Cardinal Mooney High School. (COURTESY)

‘God has some pretty big plans’ for Mooney grad

SARASOTA  |  Sometimes even the harshest moments in life can bring new hope. For 18-year-old Jaelen Childs of Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota, his near-death encounter from a terrible car accident has jumpstarted a new and promising phase in his young life.

On the evening of Jan. 31, Childs was in the process of visiting friends in his Lexus when another driver disregarded a red light and t-boned Childs’ driver side at 65 miles per hour. From there, the Chicago-native and baseball lover went in and out of consciousness until he woke up at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. 

“I don’t really recall much of my accident,” Childs said during an interview with the Florida Catholic in his home. “I was driving and then I flashed in. And I was talking to the cop, informing him what I knew. I flashed back out because I was losing so much blood.”

The damage done to Childs — which included a shattered pelvis and a “destroyed” hip — was extensive as noted in his numerous surgeries. 

“I broke my femur in five different ways. My spine was completely detached from my lower half. It’s because my legs got caught under the steering wheel and my upper half went to the right,” he said.

His mother, Lisa Childs, told more of her son’s predicament. “His main artery in his pelvis has been shattered,” she said. “His pancreas was lacerated. He was bleeding internally. He had 17 surgeries and 29 blood transfusions. The doctors said he had two things on his side—his youth and that he was an athlete.”

“My parents haven’t really left my side,” the young Chicago Cubs fan said of his mom and dad who spent several months by his side in the hospital overseeing their son’s recovery. “They were there for me the whole time.”

As lifelong Catholics, Jaelen’s parents always embraced their Christian faith during this troubling time. “We have said so many prayers,” said Jaelen’s father, Troy Childs.

While the accident was devastating, there was a moment of fortune that the Childs appreciatively regard as divine intervention. Driving behind the car that struck Jaelen’s Lexus was an off-duty officer, who witnessed the accident. The officer ended up helping save Jaelen’s life. 

“(The officer) watched it happened. They said it was 39 seconds after the accident that the cop called it in,” Lisa said. “So, time was of the essence. If it wasn’t for that officer, he would have bled to death at the scene.”

After his two months at the hospital, Jaelen has been attending therapy regularly. “Therapy is going good,” Jaelen said referencing his upgrade from the wheelchair to crutches. “Going on three weeks on being weight-bearing. Each week something new changes drastically.” Although he can’t wait to walk without help, he “would rather use crutches than a wheelchair,” because “it is hard to stay motivated in the wheelchair.” 

Yet Jaelen celebrated a great milestone from sitting on that chair. Although the accident benched Jaelen from playing sports, his teammates asked him to throw the first pitch for a baseball game in early April. Jaelen accepted the task even though confined to a wheelchair.  

“It was weird throwing in a wheelchair, but special in a way,” Jaelen recalled.

Just as his friends and family watched from the dugout and bleachers this past spring, the community has rejoiced in the teen’s incremental recovery since the accident occurred. The overall support from everyone at Cardinal Mooney High School has been a blessing for the whole family.

“My friends are my escape route,” Childs said of how he passes his time since the accident. His closest friends began a GoFundMe page for anyone looking to contribute to Childs’ expenses (https://www.gofundme.com/f/jaelen-childs).

“(Jaelen’s friends) came to the hospital every day and sat there for hours,” Lisa said. “The whole entire baseball team, the principal, and the chaplain came to see him. They are family now. They were a true blessing.” 

With the accident happening at the end of January, Jaelen’s hopes of graduating his senior year fell in jeopardy. With the awe-inspiring support of his friends, his baseball coach, the whole Catholic community, his teachers, and most of all, his loving-parents, Jaelen was able to receive a diploma.

But unlike the impressive milestone of throwing a pitch from his wheelchair, Jaelen pitched the wheels for a pair of crutches. 

He rose up from his chair on the Cardinal Mooney stage — garbed in a red gown and tassel — to applause erupting throughout the auditorium. With each measured step Jaelen took across the stage, onlookers — peers, parents and faculty — roared with loud whistles and cheering hollers. All who had prayed for him were celebrating his amazing ability to overcome his obstacles. 

Troy and Lisa took countless pictures at the graduation as they saw their son triumph over the impossible. When Jaelen walked with crutches at the graduation ceremony to get his high school diploma, “everyone in the entire place clapped,” said Jaelen’s father, Troy Childs. It was easy to recognize the pride the father carries as he witnesses his son begin the next chapter of his life. When Troy spoked about Jaelen’s miraculous comeback after the accident, he pointed to his son and said, “That’s my hero.”

When Jaelen fully recovers, he has big plans for his future that includes a possible college major in music. But the lifelong athlete still would like to pursue playing the field as a pitcher or getting on the mat as a wrestler. “I want to go to college,” Jaelen said. 

“I would like to be an athletic trainer.”

As a new graduate from a Catholic high school, Jaelen concurs that his unfortunate moment was salvaged by a higher power. 

“I think everything happened for a reason,” he said. “God put the cop behind the person. I think God helped me through it the most, and for my mom and how religious she is. I prayed every night and it really got me through it.”

Even though Jaelen has been through this a horrible event in his young life, he and his family are optimistic. They know their son will succeed with anything he chooses. 

“God has some pretty big plans for you,” his mother said with tears in her eyes. “He’s a miracle, that’s for sure.”