As school starts this fall, few are as anxious as 19-year-old Jaycob Hultburg to hit the books. For him, the school year will start Aug. 21 as he starts technical school to become an auto mechanic.
But the road back to school, and the path to a new life, started about a year ago and is mired in personal tragedy, punctuated by personal triumph and a year no one would ever want to experience.
“I am feeling a lot better. I am basically done with rehab and now I am going to go through school,” Hultburg said.
When The Kansan first met Hultburg, he was in Nebraska trying to recover from a brain injury and mired in a fight with workman's comp insurance.
His story is a tragic one. While working his job at the Harvey County Detention Center Sept. 24, 2016, Hultburg suffered an injury. He had been working at the jail for about three months before the incident occurred. No one who knows what happened in the jail that day is talking, and few know what really happened. All that is really known is he fell, and severely injured his head.
In the hours after his hospital admittance, his family was preparing for the worst. Doctors were telling the family to not expect him to ever walk or speak again. At one point the family was planning his funeral — the prognosis from doctors was just that dire.
But doctors didn't figure on the fight in Hultburg. With each move to a new treatment center, each new piece of therapy, there has been that fight — and Hultburg has been overcoming the long odds.
Hultburg was in a coma for about a month, then went to Nebraska for treatment. He spent a month at one treatment facility, before being transferred to another. His treatment in Nebraska was about $1,000 per day.
“It was intense, and he made huge strides,” said Jane Crawford, a member of his family and his legal guardian while he was a minor. “He was on Kansas Medicaid, because at under 19 he was still considered a child and that was what I could get him on on an emergency basis.”
He came back to Kansas around Christmas of 2016. He was wearing a helmet while doing outpatient rehab for his injury. He went through speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy. He underwent surgery in January to repair his skull.
This year, he was finally discharged by his neurosurgeon.
But there are lingering effects.
“I have to go to a chiropractor every week because my spine is out of whack,” Hultburg said. “The memory loss is terrible.”
Much of his childhood is not something he remembers, and recent holidays are foggy as well.
“It would be nice if I could remember names,” Hultburg said.
That fight with insurance continues, and has moved into court. A pair of hearings have been postponed, with no new dates in sight as his family fights with Cornerstone Risk Management, a company that administrates workman's compensation insurance for Harvey County.
Harvey County administrators would not comment about the claim, only stating that it is a personnel issue that is ongoing.
“I have very high hopes that it will still be settled in Jaycob's favor,” Crawford said.
“I feel like I should get what I deserve,” Hultburg said. “After being in a coma for a month and spending two months in Nebraska. … If the injury would not have happened I would still be working. Beside that, I would probably be on a death bed.”
Through state provided vocational rehab training, and his high school history, he settled on pursuing a career as an automotive mechanic. It's not something totally new to him, as he studied some of that while in high school, actually earning a partial scholarship to college to study in the field.
“He had a fork in the road after graduation,” Crawford said. “After graduation, it was 'which one?' He chose the other first.”
That, however, just was not his dream. Working at the jail was. Hultberg told The Kansan he was in kindergarten when he realized what he wanted to do with his life. A fireman visited his elementary school, and it was during that visit he began to dream of being a first responder.
After he graduated from high school, he joined a volunteer fire department in Galva. He served there for about three months before getting a job at the detention center. He told The Kansan his plan was to work at the detention center until he turned 21, and then to try and get a job as a patrolman.
He worked there for about three months before that fateful day when he wound up in the hospital with a brain bleed and a fractured skull.
Hultburg fell, and there is little to no information publicly available about what happened. Litigation with an attorney is ongoing.
After being gone from work for more than 30 days, his employment was terminated by the county. That led to the loss of his medical insurance. The county allows for up to 30 days of unpaid leave for employees prior to the employee being terminated.
He now has a new plan, and a new future ahead.
“I want to work with a (car) dealership for a couple of years and then get my own shop,” Hultburg said.
“I tell him 'you got through what you got through, now everything else is a piece of cake,'” Crawford said.