With one leg, Jakob had become a star on the football field, a state qualifier on the wrestling mat and one of Iowa's Clarinda High School’s top pitchers on the baseball team. And then he saved his family from the fire.
CLARINDA, Ia. — Jakob Childs and his family were on their way to a local Walmart when he made a sobering joke.
In the back seat of his family's Ford Escape, Childs was thinking about how as a child he survived a lawn mower accident that had chopped off most of one leg, and this spring, he survived a fire that had destroyed his family’s house and nearly killed them all. The family was on its way to pick up food, clothes and toiletries to replace the ones they lost when Childs said, “At this point, I’m basically immortal."
His father, Dan, and mother, Stephanie, started laughing.
Their son's comment was meant as a joke, but then they started thinking about everything he had overcome and all he had accomplished.
With one leg, Jakob had become a star on the football field, a state qualifier on the wrestling mat and one of Iowa's Clarinda High School’s top pitchers on the baseball team.
And then he saved his family from the fire.
Stephanie began to think there was some truth to what her son had said in jest. Perhaps he should feel immortal.
"He just feels like he can overcome anything. He’s done it. He’s showed it. He’s proved it," Stephanie said. "His accident, he overcame and did things that they said he probably wouldn’t be able to do."
And now, "He says, ‘I’ve seen where my bed was … I could have been in it. We made it out.’"
A horrific injury: 'I knew it was bad'
Dan remembers issuing the orders to his sons, Jakob and Isaiah, several times: Stay away.
He knew just how intriguing the riding lawn mower owned by the family's neighbors looked to the kids, like something fun to play on. But Dan also knew how potentially dangerous it could be.
On Mother's Day in May 2008, before heading inside to eat lunch and handing the mower over to a neighbor, he reminded them to stay away again.
"I didn't listen to my dad," Jakob now says with a grin.
Neither did Isaiah, 10, who, after a few minutes, had hopped onto the back of the lawn mower behind the neighbor for a joyride. When Jakob saw Isaiah do it, he decided to follow, hopping on the back behind his brother. But when the neighbor put the mower in reverse, both boys fell off.
Isaiah quickly got off the ground. Jakob was knocked out for a few seconds, long enough to not realize what was happening. The mower, which kept moving in reverse, drove right over Jakob's left leg.
Stephanie, who was in the bathroom getting ready for work, heard the scream through an open window. Seconds later, Isaiah came in screaming.
Dan ran outside and saw Jakob lying on the ground.
"I knew it was bad," Dan said.
So did Stephanie.
Both of her parents had been emergency medical technicians. She also works as a certified nursing assistant.
The mower blade had gone in right below Jakob's left knee and slid down the shin bone. It cut off his heel bone and most of the bones in his foot. His first two toes were dangling from his foot, but there was nothing connecting the last three.
Stephanie worried her son would die.
"That was my biggest fear — that he was going to bleed out or he was going to flip into shock and more complicated things were going to happen," Stephanie said.
After the lawn mower was flipped off him, Jakob lay on the ground, bleeding profusely. He was so out of it, he asked a first responder if he was going to have to go to the hospital.
The blade had come a quarter inch away from severing the main vein in his leg.
If that had happened, it would have killed him.
Determined to ride a bike, play baseball
When Jakob heard the word, he didn't know the meaning. His father had to explain it. Doctors told Jakob and his family that if they tried to save the leg, he could end up with a club foot or in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
The best option, they determined, was to amputate his mangled leg a few inches below his knee.
Jakob had two immediate concerns: What would his brother think, and how would his classmates react? Dan and Stephanie would explain to Isaiah what had happened to his kid brother. Teachers at school would tell students what to expect when Jakob returned.
What Jakob wasn't worried about: sports. Jakob still planned to get outside and do everything other kids did.
"He would tell a doctor, 'Doc, I'm ready to go home. I have a bike to ride. It's not going to ride itself,'" Stephanie recalled.
When Jakob got out of the hospital, that's exactly what he did.
Stephanie watched her son ride his bike with one leg. He played baseball in their yard and hopped around the bases. Just a few days after getting out of the hospital, he popped his stitches and needed a cast for a few days.
"It didn't stop him," Stephanie said.
It never would.
About a year and a half later, Jakob was cleared to play in a competitive baseball league. He wore a prosthetic when he played. In seventh grade, he was cleared to play football and wrestle. He took the prosthetic off when he wrestled.
His parents were worried about his safety and the response of other kids. How would they react when they saw someone different? Dan feared there would be snickering and laughing.
"I didn't want him to feel embarrassed because he was getting beat by these able-bodied kids," Dan said.
But most opposing players didn't even notice the prosthetic, which is usually hidden under his long pants. The only time it became an issue was during a game in sixth or seventh grade when Jakob was rounding third base and the prosthetic flew off.
Jakob still tried to score.
"He's gained the respect of so many people over the years," Dan said. "I had my reservations 'bout how people were going to look at him. But as you look around, people actually cheer him on rather than laugh at him."
On the Clarinda High School football team, he became an offensive guard and defensive end, racking up 28.5 total tackles for the Cardinals during his senior season. In 2019, he qualified for the state wrestling tournament. Clarinda baseball coach Rodney Eberly considers Jakob one of his top pitchers.
"He's just a good athlete," Eberly said.
So good that two years ago, Eberly had Jakob move from hitting right-handed to left-handed. Eberly noticed that Jakob, even with his prosthetic, would land on his heel with his swings. It would cause his swing to go up, leading to less contact.
When they moved him around, he became a quick contributor with his bat, too.
"He's kind of a freak of nature," Clarinda baseball player Parker Rock said.
Jakob has become so gifted at baseball that he hopes to play in college. He's currently focused on attending Northwest Missouri State.
A lost home: 'He saved everybody's lives'
May 9 was going to be the day of Jakob's graduation reception. His girlfriend, 19-year-old Madison Mills, had stayed at the Childs' home overnight, playing video games late into the night with Jakob and his sister, Tori. Mills awakened around 5 a.m. to something burning.
She woke up Jakob, who initially wasn't concerned. He figured his mom might be out back burning leaves.
But he wanted to make sure. He hopped up, found his prosthetic and ran downstairs and outside. He didn't see his mom burning leaves, though. He saw the side of their house on fire.
"I ran back upstairs," Jakob said.
His brother, who was at his girlfriend's house, wasn't home. But his sister, who had crashed in his room, was still asleep. So was his mom. His father was barely awake. After seeing the fire and realizing he couldn't put it out, Jakob went running back into the house and screamed for someone to call 911. Tori got on the phone.
Jakob then ran to his parents' room and woke them up. As soon as he opened their door, Stephanie could smell the smoke. Once Jakob got everyone up and out of the house, he started calling for the family's five dogs to get out.
"He saved everybody's lives," Dan said.
The fire, which started in an electrical box that had shorted, spread up to the attic. The house ended up a complete loss. The family moved into a local motel until the purchase of a new home can be finalized.
That morning, the family could do little but huddle in the driveway, watching many of their belongings — furniture and clothes — be ruined by the smoke and water that had filled the house. Then two local firefighters walked out, carrying some things. It was Jakob's collection of brackets, newspaper clippings and medals, a testament to all he had accomplished in sports, against all odds.
"Jake hit his knees in the pavement," Stephanie said. "It was very, very emotional when they walked out with it."
She called it a miracle that the mementos survived. It's no shock, though.
The way his family looks at it, Jakob's life has been full of miracles.
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