Saturday, February 25


Ten months after a traumatic brain injury, Jake Fleming is back in school and playing tennis again

Redshirt sophomore Jake Fleming has taken this season off as he recovers from a serious brain injury that he suffered last summer. Fleming's doctors thought that he would not be able to play tennis again, nor attend school. However, Fleming's miraculous recovery has proven them wrong, as he is currently taking classes at UCLA and practicing with the Bruins. Now, Jake is determined to make it back to playing condition and be a part of the Bruins' lineup next season, as well as getting his degree.

Redshirt sophomore Jake Fleming has taken this season off as he recovers from a serious brain injury that he suffered last summer. Fleming's doctors thought that he would not be able to play tennis again, nor attend school. However, Fleming's miraculous recovery has proven them wrong, as he is currently taking classes at UCLA and practicing with the Bruins. Now, Jake is determined to make it back to playing condition and be a part of the Bruins' lineup next season, as well as getting his degree. Maya Sugarman

“It was a parent’s worst nightmare,” said Steve Fleming, the father of UCLA tennis player, Jake Fleming.

312 days ago, Jake’s life took an unexpected detour … and it was unclear if he would ever get it back on track.

“My parents were out to dinner and I got a phone call at like nine o’clock at night,” said an emotional Ally Fleming on April 13, 2010.

Sitting next to her younger brother Jake, a redshirt sophomore from Newport Beach, Ally, a fourth-year at UCLA, related the story of her family’s traumatic journey less than a year earlier.

“My parents called me and were like, “˜Don’t leave the house, we’re coming home right now,’ Ally said. “Then my mom storms in crying hysterically and she’s like, “˜Something really bad has happened to Jake.’”

It’s a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in Westwood. The sky is clear and the sun is bright. But the Fleming family can’t help but remember the darker days that haunted their existence just 10 months ago.

Initially, the Flemings were notified that Jake’s injury was not serious and that there was no need for them to travel to Dallas.

But soon after, the Flemings having already purchased their tickets to Dallas anyway, Jake’s dad got the call.

“We’re sitting, about to board our flight, and my dad gets a call from the doctors saying that Jake has internal bleeding in his brain and swelling of the brain and that it’s really not a good situation,” Ally recalled. “So come morning, by the time we get here, he might not be there.”

“I get emotional talking about it because it was the worst plane flight of our lives,” Ally continued. “We couldn’t call anyone, we didn’t know what was going on, and we didn’t know when we landed if Jake was still going to be there or not.”

June 13, 2009. Dallas, Texas

Jake and his friends are waiting on a taxi having just left a concert.

“According to everyone Jake was with that night … it was completely unprovoked,” Ally explained. “This kid and a bunch of his friends just unloaded off of a party bus, and Jake got punched, another boy got punched, but none of them saw it coming.”

Jake never saw the inside of the taxi he had been waiting on.

But 312 days later, just over 10 months, the remarkable story of Jake Fleming can be recited from the mouth of Jake himself, much to the surprise of doctors and family alike. From once being on the brink of death, Jake is now laughing, learning and most importantly, at least to Jake, playing tennis.

“They called me “˜The Miracle Boy,’” Jake said, chuckling and smiling. “I don’t take things for granted now. Before, I’d just go out and play (tennis), and it was like a daily routine. Now I feel so fortunate to go out there. Every day I just look to enjoy myself.”

The incident and the long recovery

During a trip to visit friends in Dallas, Texas, Jake attended a Rascal Flatts concert at the Center. After the concert, Jake’s group waited outside for a taxi when a group of young men attacked Fleming and his colleagues. Jake was punched in the head, causing him to fall over and hit his head on the sidewalk.

Jake suffered a subdural hematoma and brain contusion. In addition, Fleming had massive swelling and bleeding of the brain, as well as severe inter-cranial pressures.

In short, he was in dire straits.

The doctors at Baylor University Medical Center decided to chemically induce Jake into a coma, and upon the arrival of Jake’s parents, Steve and Jodi Fleming, along with his sister, Ally, Jake was on life support.

“It was pretty horrifying to see your kid like that,” said Steve, relating the scene of his family’s arrival at the Baylor University Medical Center.

“He wasn’t breathing on his own; he was on a machine that was breathing for him,” Jodi explained. “And he probably had 25 tubes in him and he was on life support. They basically told us at that point it was going to be a waiting game.”

According to Ally, from that point on, Jake’s status was unclear.

“For two weeks, it was really touch and go, so that was really hard. We like lived in the hospital for two weeks.”

Jake remained heavily sedated in the intensive care until July 6, which he recalls as the first day he actually knew where he was. On July 20, Jake was transferred to a nearby rehabilitation center, where, according to Ally, he was forced to re-learn some of the most basic human functions.

“He was in inpatient therapy … for two weeks where he literally learned how to walk again,” Ally said. “He couldn’t read a clock, he couldn’t remember the day, he couldn’t remember where he was.”

But at the forefront of the minds of every member of the Fleming family was the fact that Jake was getting better.

“It was just amazing how quickly he recovered,” Ally said.

On Aug. 2, Jake was permitted to travel back to California. Once back at home, Fleming was to follow a strict rehabilitation schedule, including spending Monday through Friday at a Mission Viejo rehab center from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jake was also required to be asleep by 10 p.m., and this process continued from the day of Jake’s return home until the beginning of school in late September.

However, despite Jake’s speedy and unanticipated recovery, the effects of the accident still linger on the redshirt sophomore’s brain.


“My memory is bad, my concentration is bad, and my head never feels right,” Fleming said. “I still have the feeling like someone is squeezing two hands on (my head) just because of the pressure. I get fatigued really easy and I’m still on medication for it.”

But according to Jake, his fiery on-court nature is a thing of the past. After surviving the severe brain injury, Jake is adamant that the old days of becoming frustrated and occasionally tossing his racket are dead and gone.

Now, Jake is simply grateful to be able to take the court, no matter the capacity.

“It was super hard in the beginning because I had no coordination,” Jake said. “My feet felt like they weighed 200 pounds. I’m still not close to the movement that I had before but my coordination is coming around. I’m trying to get out there as much as I can. I’m patient with it.”

And it wasn’t merely Jake’s tennis career that hung in the balance after the assault. Doctors told Jake and his family that because of the extent of his injuries it was possible Jake would never be able to return to school.

“They told my sister and my parents that school was maybe not ever going to be an option again,” Jake explained. “Part of my recovery was me believing the whole time that I’m going to be normal; that life was going to go back to the way it was.”

But according to Jake, not returning to UCLA was simply not an avenue that he was willing to travel.

“My parents would always say, “˜Take it easy, Jake,’ but I would be like, “˜No, I’m going to school.’ The fact that I went back this fall, just a couple months later, is pretty crazy.”

Not dwelling on the past

As for the night in question, Jake and Ally were unable to comment on the status of the culprit, who did eventually surrender to the police.

But Jake reiterated that a large part of his recovery consisted of him focusing on recovering rather than dwelling on the unfortunate incident.

“My parents the whole time have stressed to me, don’t get angry about the situation, just focus on my recovery,” Jake said. “And that’s basically what I’ve been doing the whole time. I mean yeah, I could look back and be so pissed off about it, but what can you do.”

However, Chancellor Hutcheson, Jake’s assailant, has yet to reach out to Jake and issue an apology. Hutcheson surrendered to police nine days after the incident but was subsequently released on a $25,000 bond.

“He clearly didn’t mean to do what he did to Jake,” Ally said. “If he would have just apologized, I think that would have been the bigger thing to do. But it is what it is.”

“The Miracle Boy”

Today, Jake is back to taking classes at UCLA and back to swinging the tennis racket. It is unclear as to whether Jake will ever be able to compete seriously again, but for now, Jake and his family are grateful that he is even alive.

“It’s absolutely wonderful to have him back and to see him happy,” Steve said of his son. “There were times where it didn’t look very good, and even if he did survive, it wasn’t going to be very good. He obviously beat the odds and we could not be more thrilled and so fortunate and so blessed.”

Jake’s mother piggybacked the sentiments of her husband, commenting that one positive coming from the unfortunate incident is that it brought the Fleming family much closer.

“When something happens to your family like this, it just draws you so much closer,” Jodi said. “We wake up every day and just thank the lord for everything he’s given us. We’re just so blessed every day.”

Ally, who served as something of an overseer for Jake through this whole process and still does, made some light of that newfound “closeness,” explaining that she has made it a job to clutter Jake’s cell phone’s call log with her name.

“I’m sure I drive him nuts because I call him like four times a day now like, “˜Where are you?’ “˜What are you doing?’”

But Ally also reiterated just how important she felt it was for her to be by Jake’s side from the time of the incident until now.

“I chose not to go back to summer school and stay at home and be his sort of caretaker,” Ally said. “I went to rehab with him every day. We just kind of did that whole process together and it was really important, at least for me, to be there with him through the whole thing.”

All in all, Jake, along with his family, has been able to take some positives away from the ill-fated night of June 13. Besides bringing his family closer together, Jake has also been working on tightening another vital relationship in his life.

“My whole outlook on life has completely changed. I was in college, at UCLA; I basically thought I was just living the good life and unstoppable, as most guys do,” he said. “Now life has completely changed. I owe everything to my family and friends, those dear to me. I thank God every night. This whole situation has definitely brought me way closer to God.”

And while he may be struggling to regain all of his physical ability, Jake certainly has not lost any strength in the mental department.

“I think that my determination to get back healthy has been a big thing, and I won’t be satisfied with just that,” he said.

“I want to play next year and am willing to do anything for that chance.”

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