Never give up

Never give up

After suffering a brain injury in 2011, Sam Bellett’s life is back on track

By Robert Coon
Sam Bellett

Sam Bellett

Sam Bellett had just turned 16 and was a week away from starting his junior year at Mandarin High School in Jacksonville when he was struck by an SUV while riding his bicycle to cross-country practice. It was 6:15 a.m. on Aug. 18, 2011. His family was told his injuries were life-threatening.

“We sort of broke down at that moment because you don’t know what to do when you see your child lifeless,” said Sam’s mother, Maisie Bellett. Sam was the patient honoree at this year’s A Night for Heroes, which benefits TraumaOne at Shands Jacksonville.

Sam had suffered a severe brain injury, his skull was fractured, his left leg was broken and he had numerous internal injuries. Luckily, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue personnel recognized the severity of Sam’s head injury at the scene and got him to Shands Jacksonville’s Level I Trauma Center quickly. His prognosis looked good, but his body needed time to heal. Sam was put into a medically induced coma.
After spending three weeks at Shands Jacksonville and just about as long at Brooks Rehabilitation, Sam began what would be months of rehabilitation at home. Meanwhile, the start of his junior year had come and gone. Classes he would need to graduate were well under way and wouldn’t be easy to make up.

Sam had been in standard classes all his life, but near the end of his freshman year he asked school counselor Peggy Adams if he could enroll in the AICE program, the most rigorous academic program his high school offered. She didn’t think he was ready. He’d never even taken an honors class. But Sam kept asking, and eventually Adams relented and he started his first AICE class.

Then there was the accident. And the brain injury.

Sam was devastated when he was told he would be returning to standard classes instead of AICE courses. “I worked so hard to be able to go into it and do it, I just wanted to get back to it,” Sam said.

So while he learned to walk again, while his fractured skull healed and while the swelling in his head subsided, Sam enrolled in virtual classes from home.

By the time classes started again at the end of January 2012, Sam was back at Mandarin and back in his AICE classes. He’s set to graduate from Mandarin with his AICE degree this June.

“I knew I learned my lesson: You can’t tell the young man no,” Adams said.

He’s also been accepted to The Ohio State University where he plans to study science.

“The name of the game right now is determination, and Sam’s got determination,” said Joseph Tepas, M.D., a UF professor of pediatric surgery at the College of Medicine-Jacksonville and one of the founders of the state’s first trauma program. “Sam will succeed.”