Polytech’s Jaksch came back from the brink

Collin Jaksch, a junior at Polytech High, carries the ball against Caesar Rodney in a game played last September. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — It’s a funny thing about almost dying in a football game.

Collin Jaksch can pull up the video and watch the play that nearly killed him anytime he wants.

In fact, the Polytech High junior was just watching it on Hudl the other day.

“I just wanted to see it again,” said Jaksch.

The play was pretty basic. Jaksch took the ball on a sweep and sprinted toward the sideline.

“I was going out of bounds and then I just turned back in to go up the field,” he described. “Everyone was surrounding me. All of Dover’s football team just hit me and I fell out of bounds.”

While the play looked routine, Jaksch’s delayed reaction was anything but. On the film, he can see the helmet-to-helmet contact he made with another player.

“Stuff started going black and white,” Jaksch continued. “I didn’t realize it (something was wrong) until I sat down on the bench. And then, like five seconds later, it felt like I passed out.”

What happened next on the Polytech sidelines was bonechilling.

Jaksch was unconscious, his eyes rolling back in his head and his body going completely limp. His father, Harvey, a Dover policeman, started pounding on his chest but couldn’t get a response.

The youngster was rushed to the hospital. Within 52 minutes of being placed in the ambulance, Jaksch was undergoing emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain.

Collin Jaksch works on his balance during rehab. Submitted photo

If it had taken much longer, Jaksch might not have survived.

“His doctor said he had an 11-centimeter shift in his brain,” said Collin’s mom, Becky. “That normally … that’s the end of life for people. It was all a matter of timing.

“The doctor said even if it had been like 10 or 15 minutes longer, we’d have been talking about a different outcome.”

What happened that night was terrifying for the Jaksch family of Dover.

But it’s a story with a remarkable ending.

Jaksch might be a little worse for the wear these days — he has short-term memory problems and some numbness in his right hand and foot — but he’s otherwise a pretty normal 17-year-old. And now he can count playing video games as physical therapy.

“There’s a little bit different,” said Jaksch. “My body doesn’t sometimes work as it used to. But I feel fine. Sometimes I feel like it didn’t even happen.”

‘It was scary’

Collin Jaksch doesn’t remember much about the night his life changed forever.

Polytech lost at Dover on the evening of Oct. 18. Jaksch suffered his head injury late in the one-sided game.

He actually doesn’t remember a lot of things that happened during the 17 days he spent in Dover’s Bayhealth Medical Center while he underwent two surgeries.

“It’s crazy,” said Collin. “People will say, ‘Collin, I just talked to you that day.’ And I’m like, ‘No, you didn’t even come in to see me.’”

Of course, in some ways, that’s a good thing.

What happened after Jaksch collapsed on the sidelines and the days that followed bring back tough memories for his family, all of whom were at the game. Jaksch’s twin brother, Trent, is also on Polytech’s football team while his older sister, Taylor, 19, was on the sidelines taking photos.

Twin brothers Trent (10) and Collin Jaksch (8) connected on a touchdown pass in the game against CR. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“Sometimes I relive that,” said Taylor. “It was hard. When we saw him (in the hospital), he was on a ventilator. I hate saying this, but he looked dead, he really did. It was scary.”

“Sometimes I go to sleep at night and all I can see is him on the field when it happened,” said Becky. “It gets to you. And I still have one that can play and then I think about him. How do I know that nothing’s going on with him?

“It was scary. It’s scary when they come out and say, ‘Your son’s not breathing, we’re going to have to intubate him,’ and then rush him into surgery. I didn’t see him for the next two hours.”

Along with helping take care of her brother after his injury, Taylor also began chronicling his recovery with photos and video on social media.

She said a lot of people had heard about Collin’s injury but didn’t really understand the severity of his condition.

“He doesn’t remember the hospital — and I’m happy that he doesn’t,” said Taylor. “But then again, sometimes you want him to know that he relearned how to practically walk and balance.

“Some people didn’t know the extent of his injury. I feel like they just think that he had a concussion. A lot of people didn’t know that he was still in the hospital. … I wanted people to know this is life-changing, what happened.”

Head injuries, of course, have become a big subject of debate in football over the last few years.

One of the reasons that Jaksch’s injury might have been so severe was that he had suffered another head injury earlier in the season.

Jaksch had just been cleared to play again after missing a few games from a concussion. He’d also taken his share of hits as an ice hockey player.

When doctors operated on him in October, they found that he’d had a previous brain bleed.

That Jaksch was able to make such a big recovery is considered pretty much a miracle.

“They’re all still talking about it,” said Becky. “Even I’ve gone to my own doctor’s appointments, they’ll recognize the last name, and they’re like, ‘Hey, are you the mom?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’

“They’re like, ‘Oh, we talked about him in one of our meetings.’”

Changes

With short-term memory issues, Collin can never be quite sure when the problem will pop up.

“He’ll go to do something and forget why he’s doing it,” said Becky.

Collin didn’t return to school until mid-January. He still undergoes several forms of therapy — physical, speech and cognitive — a few times a week.

The feeling is coming back in his hand and foot.

With brain injuries, there are a lot of unknowns. His physical healing will continue for at least a year after his last surgery, which was on Oct. 28.

His siblings notice little differences in Collin’s personality from time to time. He’s always been pretty outgoing.

Collin Jaksch was in the hospital for several weeks and underwent a pair of surgeries after being injured last fall. Submitted photo

“He will just make dumb comments sometimes out of the blue,” Trent said with a laugh. “And he does forget a lot, I can’t lie about that.”

“He definitely says some crazy things,” said Taylor. “I feel like he talks before he thinks sometimes. But we just make a joke out of it.”

Clearly, Collin’s recovery to this point has given him and his family a lot to be grateful for. They also can’t say enough about the way the Polytech community supported them after the injury.

Several fundraisers were held to offset some of his medical bills.

“The outpouring from the community was incredible,” said Becky. “Those people were tremendous in helping lift his spirits.”

Jaksch’s injury also played a part in bringing some changes to Polytech’s football program as a whole.

He was one of several players who suffered season-ending injuries last year, causing the short-handed Panthers to forfeit their final two games. Polytech then decided to leave the Henlopen Conference — in football only — for at least the 2021 and ’22 seasons.

Trent Jaksch did play the Panthers’ last football game of the fall after his brother’s injury.

“I just feel that Collin would want me to play and not hold back,” he said. “If I had gotten hurt, I know he’d still want to play for me.”

A new lease on life

The ordeal that Collin endured over the last six months has changed his outlook on life.

He knows, in a lot of ways, he’s lucky to be alive.

“I just think of all the positives in life instead of all the negatives,” said Collin. “It helps me get through it. I just don’t know how to thank the doctors for what they did. It’s amazing.

Trent Jaksch holds up Collin’s jersey at the game after he was injured. Submitted photo

“It’s crazy how much support I had,” he said about the community. “You actually see how much people come together. I try to help people now.”

Becky said Collin still talks about trying to play sports again all the time.

Not surprisingly, though, he won’t be able to play full-contact football or ice hockey again. That’s not easy to hear considering he’s pretty much played sports year round since he was 5.

Collin, who also plays lacrosse for Polytech, hasn’t given up on getting back out on the field again next spring. He helped with the lacrosse squad this preseason.

He tries to be philosophical about his situation.

“I try not to think about it,” he said. “I just think of the good side — how I’m still alive and how I can still be here throwing lacrosse balls. I knew sports weren’t going to last forever anyway. I just try to make the best of it now.”