Jerry Cunningham thought his son might die. A Broward County bus had crushed the boy under tons of steel. Doctors gave him a slim chance of survival.
On Thursday, after two months in the hospital, 14-year-old Jerry Cunningham is going home.
“I always say my son is a miracle because he’s alive and nobody knows how,” his father said.
On the morning of May 10, Jerry, an eighth-grader at Crystal Lakes Middle School in Pompano Beach, was running to catch a Broward County Transit bus to school in the 1200 block of East Sample Road. Video surveillance shows the teen running to catch up with the bus while two women pay the driver.
“A runner’s coming,” someone on the bus says.
Jerry was able to get his arm in between the sliding doors before they closed shut, locking him to the bus as it picked up speed. He ran to keep up before he fell and was run over.
Surveillance video from a nearby store shows his mother throwing off her shoes and running after her son.
The bus driver, Reinaldo Soto, ran out of the bus to check on the boy and then ran back inside to call for help.
Jerry was taken to Broward Health Medical Center. There, doctors didn’t expect him to survive.
“When Jerry got to Broward General, they didn’t give him much chance to live,” Cunningham said.
The next few days would determine whether Jerry would make it.
“After the fifth day he woke up. He opened his eyes,” his father said. “That day the doctor said it’s a 50-50 chance. So we’ve been waiting day by day.”
On June 13, Jerry was transferred to Jackson Memorial Hospital.
“On the second day that I was here, he called me Dad. On the second day he called Mom, Dad, so he started talking and I saw him, he walks, he laughs,” Cunningham said.
Jerry suffered from a severe traumatic brain injury and from facial, clavicle, rib and ankle fractures. He couldn’t put weight on his left leg and needed a tube for feeding.
Doctors worked to lower his agitation and regulate his sleep.
“He didn’t know where he was, who he was, what was going on. He didn’t know anything,” said Seema Khurana, director of pediatric rehabilitation at Jackson.
After a week at the hospital, he could sleep well, answer some questions and put weight on his foot. Day by day, Jerry started to become the boy he was before the accident.
“His parents have been at his bedside and at his therapies every single day,” Khurana said. “They are there 24 hours a day and they’re with him. So I think that makes a huge difference when he goes home.”
His father makes him a special breakfast every morning, dubbed the royal breakfast and quizzes him on the menu.
“That’s part of the therapy. They do their part and I do mine. My and my wife, we do ours,” Cunningham said.
On Thursday, Jerry will begin the second leg of his recovery at home and begin outpatient therapy, receiving therapy three times a week and lessons from a teacher who will visit him in his home.
His physical strength has returned and he has progressed to where he can walk by himself, said physical therapist Michael Pinto. His problem comes with safety awareness. His parents will have to supervise him 24 hours a day.
“He’s like a baby,” his father said. “He’s not a 14-year-old boy, but rather a baby that has to learn everything again.”
Speech pathologist Jennifer Rey said Jerry’s major problem is in the cognitive area, with memory and problem solving.
“His memory is the biggest deficit right now,” she said. “He is able to remember things right away, but if you tell him something, as a few seconds pass, it’s gone,” she said.
His long-term memory remains preserved and doctors are working with him to improve his retention. A memory notebook and an iPad with reminders help get him through the day.
“He’s Jerry to me. He’s a new case,” Pinto said. “This is where he was and this is how he presents now and now with an eye toward the future to work on his deficits.”
His parents plan to keep the homecoming low key to keep their son on track.
At the hospital on Wednesday, his father cried as he thanked those who saved his son’s life.
“The therapists and these people are miracle workers,” Cunningham said, holding back tears. “Excellent.”
He hugged Khurana through the tears as he left.
“For where he is, I think he’s going to make it,” he said.