By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
James Cockrum, 15, of Rudyard is skipping to school cheerfully this week after a month-long absence, hoping he will be well enough to run track in the spring. On Oct. 19, Cockrum fell out of a pickup truck and fractured his skull. He lay in a coma for 10 days and stayed in the hospital until Nov. 18.
Cockrum returned to school part time last week, and began full time Monday.
"We've called him knothead for years," his mother, Sheila Mayes, joked. "That's pretty much what saved him."
Mayes said her family responds to crisis with humor. When she knew her son was OK, she had a couple T-shirts made for the occasion. One says: "Official crash test dummy." The other: "I suffered a brain injury. What's your excuse?"
The T-shirts were well-received.
"I liked them," Cockrum said.
"My classmates really loved them," he added.
Mayes remembers that a doctor who cared for Cockrum said, "He's a walking miracle." She said the doctors who treated him in the intensive care unit did not expect him to survive.
There were five doctors assigned to Cockrum by the hospital when he arrived, as well as his own cadre of nurses, she said. There was a time when alarms on his various monitors were sounding every 60 seconds.
Cockrum had left a Blue Sky/KG football game the afternoon of Oct. 19, riding standing up in the bed of a pickup driven by a 14-year-old friend. Cockrum fell out when the driver turned a corner and accelerated, the Montana Highway Patrol said.
Cockrum was taken first to Chester Hospital by ambulance, and then to Benefis East in Great Falls, Mayes said.
For the first five days, Cockrum was in critical condition in the intensive care unit. After that, the pressure on his brain decreased, and his heart rate increased, Mayes said. She was told those were good signs. Two days after he came out of the coma, Cockrum was walking with assistance, and two days later, when the tubes came out of his throat, he was talking.
"I never did get mad, not at either one of the kids," Mayes said. "Kids do stupid things."
Mayes stayed in Great Falls for most of the time her son was there, and was joined for much of the time by her fiance, she said.
Two weeks ago she needed to go back to work to help pay the bills. Mayes works at 4B's in Havre and she said some co-workers set up a fund for her family to help pay the bills and traveling expenses while Cockrum was in the hospital. Jars were placed in businesses throughout Havre.
She went back to work when the fund ran out.
"I would like to send out a really huge thank you for everyone that donated to the fund," she said.
Cockrum said he has learned his lesson about riding in the back of trucks, and now he looks forward to recovering fully.
Right now he's having problems with his short-term memory, his mother said.
He is glad to be back at school, among his friends, and to enjoy his mother's cooking. He said he has his eye on the next step.
"I can't wait until I can play sports," Cockrum said.
He will turn 16 next month.