There is rarely a quiet moment for the Bacon family of nine. Their days are busy, between church, school, athletics and the family food truck. But their lives came to a halt on July 26, 2021, when the youngest Bacon son, Raqeem, was hit by a car while riding his bicycle.
A life-changing day
Raqeem is currently 13 years old and the youngest of seven children, but he was 12 when the accident happened. It was summer break, and everyone was home, including Raqeem’s older sister, Rajae, who was visiting from college. Their grandmother, Brenda Tobler, was with them while Tina worked.
Raqeem wanted to ride his bike to the nearby gas station to buy a drink. A while later, Tobler and Rajae became worried when Raqeem had not returned and was not answering his phone. They decided to go look for him. As they neared the intersection, they heard sirens and noticed the road was blocked. Rajae spotted Raqeem’s bike in the road and immediately called Tina to tell her something had happened.
Tina called Raqeem’s father, Leonard, to tell him the situation and rushed to the scene of the accident, where she learned emergency responders had taken Raqeem to UF Health Jacksonville, home of UF Health TraumaOne, the only Level I adult and pediatric trauma center in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia.
At the hospital, Tina and Leonard found out Raqeem was badly injured. His jaw had been broken in two places, and he was covered in bruises, but the biggest concern was a serious head injury that forced the pediatric neurosurgery team to operate immediately. With these types of head injuries, immediate recognition and treatment are vital for optimizing outcomes for patients.
Brian Yorkgitis, DO, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville and pediatric trauma medical director, was one of Raqeem’s doctors.
“Raqeem came in with a traumatic brain injury after being hit on his bicycle, and we knew we needed to act quickly,” said Yorkgitis. “The initial care was so important for Raqeem’s recovery.”
The trauma team secured Raqeem’s airway and implanted a device that allowed them to closely monitor for brain swelling to adjust therapies to relieve the pressure in his brain.
The first few days were crucial as they continued to reduce brain swelling and monitor Raqeem’s progress. By the end of the week, Raqeem received surgery to his jaw, requiring it to be wired shut.
A long road of recovery
Raqeem remained in the hospital for a total of 24 days; there, he continued to heal and receive therapy. Thankfully for Raqeem, age plays a role in the recovery of brain injuries. At a young age, Raqeem’s situation was hopeful.
“We see better recovery in kids with traumatic brain injuries than with adults, so we’re a lot more optimistic about them,” said David Ebler, MD, medical director of the trauma program and a trauma surgeon at UF Health Jacksonville.
When it comes to trauma patients, especially those with traumatic brain injuries, UF Health Jacksonville has an experienced, multidisciplinary team who are all-hands-on-deck in a patient’s recovery. During his time at the hospital, Raqeem received physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and psychological support.
“We saw progress every single day,” said Tina. “The staff was truly amazing.”
Sharena Givens, RN, also cared for Raqeem and was thrilled to hear how well Raqeem is doing today. Givens was there for the first few days of Raqeem’s care, and she made a lasting impact on the Bacon family.
Tina and Leonard were grateful to all of the staff who went the extra mile to treat them like family.
“It was more than just a job; they actually cared,” said Leonard. “They went above and beyond their call of duty.”
It takes a village
Leonard Bacon is the pastor of a local church, and he says faith carried their family through Raqeem's first days in the hospital. And in the weeks that followed, they leaned on the support of extended family, friends and the community. People dropped off meals and drove the other Bacon kids to school and activities. Even complete strangers stepped up to show support in various ways after hearing Raqeem’s story.
By the end of his time at UF Health Jacksonville, Raqeem began moving more, opened his eyes and regained awareness. He had not seen anyone besides his parents in over three weeks. On his last day, Raqeem was greeted by his siblings with hugs. It was an emotional moment for everyone.
Raqeem was discharged to Brooks Rehabilitation, where he spent another month continuing his speech, physical and occupational therapies. UF Health Jacksonville works with Brooks Rehabilitation and continues integrated care while patients transition into rehab.
In September 2021, Raqeem was cleared to return home, but continued going to outpatient rehab three times a week. By January 2022, Raqeem had graduated from rehab and transitioned back to school part time. Today, Raqeem is attending school full time again and doing great.
The Bacon family is forever grateful to the teams at UF Health Jacksonville and TraumaOne for saving Raqeem’s life.
Visit UFHealthJax.org/TraumaOne to learn more about our TraumaOne team and services.
ACS Verified Trauma Center
Since 2018, UF Health Jacksonville's Level I trauma center has been designated a Verified Trauma Center by the American College of Surgeons. A distinction given only to trauma centers that meet the most stringent criteria, TraumaOne is one of 13 ACS-verified centers in Florida.