Years after brutal 'one punch', victim's family still hurt
THERE was a time when Liz Brook would watch her fearless son racing his motorbike or chasing dairy cows around a paddock and marvel at how he never broke a single bone.
In his late teens, his first significant injury - a dislocated shoulder - delayed his dreams of becoming a diesel mechanic in the army but after surgery and a year's rehabilitation, he was cleared to re-join.
On New Years Eve 2010, he was celebrating his recovery with his girlfriend and friends at the Jetty carnival before he drove the group to Dorrigo.
Sober, but a revhead at heart, he couldn't resist a few burnouts for the raucous crowds who were spilling out of the local pub.
They cheered him on but frivolous fun turned dangerous when a few stray bottles were hurled at his car.
Jake and a friend got out, words were exchanged and, despite his insistence that he didn't want a fight, a punch to the chin caused him to lose balance and land hard on the road.
Eventually, paramedics rushed his broken body to the Coffs Harbour Hospital but his family would soon learn that the son and brother they loved had been left behind forever.
Back home in Bellingen, Liz had stayed up late to watch the fireworks with her teenage daughter Emma and was climbing into bed when a knock on the door from a neighbour changed her life.
The panicked friend told her she needed to go to the hospital because "something had happened to Jake".
She woke her husband and got in the car but when they arrived at the hospital, Jake wasn't there.
Nurses explained that paramedics on the scene at Dorrigo were struggling to stabilise him.
Liz consoled herself with thought that Jake "had just broken his arm badly" or was trapped in a car with minor injuries.
It was only when she walked into a hospital room to find her son attached to a life support machine that reality began to sink in."I touched him and there was absolutely no response...nothing," Liz said.
"I said to my husband 'He's not there....he's breathing but he's not there".
Scans revealed Jake had bleeding on his brain and would need surgery.
Doctors explained that he would be sent to the Royal North Shore Hospital but if the bleeding could not be stopped, they believed "it was best to turn off the life support".
Liz and the family were forced to "say their goodbyes" to Jake in case he didn't make it before getting in a car to meet him at Sydney.
During the drive Liz got the call to give permission for doctors to operate and by the time they were at Lane Cove, they were told Jake had made it through surgery.
For three weeks he remained in an induced coma and when he finally woke his family was introduced to a new person.
Parts of his brain had effectively died, a section of his skull had to be removed to relieve pressure.
He stayed in care for a little over four months before he was sent home to live with his parents who had to put everything on hold to become full-time carers.
Today, Jake is blind in the right side of both his eyes.
He has no memory of his life before he was hurt.
His right side is paralysed and getting worse and the once gentle boy is aggressive, angry and depressed.
Liz says her son is now a "three-year-old stuck in a 22-year-old's body".
The sight of an army truck rolling down the highway brings her to tears.
Along with the devastating consequences "one punch" can have on the victim's life, Liz wants the community to understand the impact it has on an entire family.
Jake requires 24-hour care and the family relies on fundraisers and donations to provide the support he needs.
His 19-year-old sister, who was once his dear friend, is now subjected to tirades of abuse on an almost daily basis.
Liz wishes she could "split herself in two" and grieves over the fact that in some of the most precious years of her daughter's life, she simply "couldn't be there".
"People need to know that this is what can happen from one punch...if you throw a stone into a river it causes a ripple effect," she said.
"We have lost our Jake - sometimes, we see glimpses of Jake in there but the reality is he will never be able to do the things he wanted to do.
"He had a whole life ahead of him and now he has to live in a world of hurt that none of us could have ever imagined."