Since he was 10 years old, Jake has felt a need for speed. But a karting accident before Jake’s 16th birthday nearly derailed his hopes of becoming a professional race car driver.
Thankfully, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) was able to change the course of Jake’s treatment and get his recovery back on-track. Today, Jake is back behind the wheel – now racing Lamborghinis.
Jake’s path to competitive racing began when he was 10. His dad, Neal, had raced competitively when he was younger and brought Jake to motorsports events – at first, just to watch, then as Jake became more interested, to learn how to drive the specially-designed competitive racing karts.
“Competition karts look sort-of similar to traditional go-carts,” Jake explains, “but they go a lot faster – up to 75 miles per hour – and have a lot more safety gear installed.”
Jake started racing locally with Forty7 Karting at age 10 and after winning and getting on the podium in numerous local races, he began competing nationally at age 13. His parents, Neal and Christine, supported his interest though Christine worried about the possibility of injuries.
“I wanted him to play tennis,” Christine says with a laugh, “but Jake wanted to race.”
An accident and a broken collarbone
In late 2021, Jake won the U.S. Rotax Championship, earning him a ticket to participate in Worlds at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals in Bahrain, a small country in the Middle East. “It was a big accomplishment, and I was beyond excited,” Jake says.
Looking for more practice before the international competition, Jake and his dad headed to Las Vegas for an organized national race in a casino parking lot in November.
During the race, disaster struck. Jake was headed around a curve on the track – driving about 45 mph – when his kart was flipped by a competitor, sending his body into the pavement and partially pinning him underneath.
Neal rushed to his son’s side and saw Jake’s collarbone (clavicle) pushing into his shoulder. The bone didn’t break the skin, but it was obvious the teen had sustained a significant injury and would need treatment. They called an ambulance.
After four X-rays, doctors in Las Vegas told Jake and Neal that the teen’s bone was not displaced and that it would heal on its own. They gave Jake a brace and sent him to the airport to return home to Phoenixville, PA.
But Neal believed Jake’s injury was more serious and sought a second opinion from the Division of Orthopaedics at CHOP.
Second opinion and clavicle surgery
A few days later, Jake and his parents met with Brendan A. Williams, MD, an attending orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine physician. Dr. Williams reviewed Jake’s X-rays, ordered additional imaging, and encouraged the family to meet with a colleague, J. Todd Lawrence, MD, PhD, who had more experience treating high-performance adolescent athletes with shoulder and joint injuries.
Dr. Lawrence met with the family, reviewed the teen’s X-rays and discovered Jake’s clavicle – a bone that connects the breastplate to the shoulder – was not only severely displaced; it was broken in multiple pieces and “tenting” the skin.
“A piece of bone was just an inch from penetrating my skin,” Jake says.
Jake’s injury would not heal properly on its own – and would likely affect Jake’s chances of pursuing his dream career as a competitive race car driver. To repair the bone and maintain full movement and dexterity, Jake would need clavicle surgery.
Surgery was scheduled for three days later at CHOP’s Philadelphia Campus. During the outpatient procedure, Dr. Lawrence carefully reconnected the multiple bone fragments that had shattered in the accident, securing them with 10-12 screws and two metal plates to hold the bone in place.
Jake was placed in an immobilization brace; so, his arm was restrained by the wrist and upper arm, and then secured against his chest and waist. He returned home the same day with instructions to take over-the-counter pain medication for a few days as needed.
For the next few weeks, Jake wore the brace 24 hours a day – only removing it to shower – as the bone slowly healed. During this time, he was barred from most physical activities, including racing.
“Jake handled the whole experience and his disappointment remarkably well,” Christine says. “I think my husband took it harder that Jake couldn’t compete. He’d been so excited for him.”
Road to recovery
During his recovery at home, Jake continued to attend high school online. He had follow-up appointments with Dr. Lawrence every couple of weeks and in early January was finally able to remove the brace.
“I was anxious to return to racing, but I didn’t want to do it prematurely,” says Jake, now 16. He took time to slowly regain the muscle mass he’d lost due to inactivity and used the downtime from racing to learn more about the new vehicle he’d soon be driving –a 670-horsepower Lamborghini Super Trofeo car.
Jake has made a smooth transition from karting – where he was recognized as the U.S. Champion in numerous national race organizations including Rotax and United States Pro Karting Series – to adult motorsports. In June, Jake competed in the 2022 Baja 500 with three of his 16-year-old karting friends. The team finished second in their class and completed the grueling off-road desert race in about 17 hours.
Today, Jake is looking forward to racing the Lamborghini at events this summer in Watkins Glen, NY; Plymouth, WI; Alton, VA; and Portimao, Portugal.
“Jake is living his dream,” Christine says. “And we owe a great deal of his successful recovery to Dr. Lawrence and the team at CHOP.”
Jake adds: “They did a fantastic job. It wasn’t an easy surgery – with so many pieces of bone fragmented – but it worked. I have no pain or discomfort now and I get to do what I love – race.”