‘Look at my head’: Boy, 11, uses injury to push for bike helmets

Unless you’re looking for some verbal abuse, don’t venture into Jaden Rivera’s Lake Park neighborhood riding a bicycle without protective head gear.

“You need to wear a helmet,” Jaden, an 11-year-old fifth grader at Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary School in Palm Beach Gardens, has been heard shouting at unsuspecting cyclists. “Look at my head.”

An incision — in the shape of a question mark — is still visible on the side of Jaden’s head and is the result of a life-saving, emergency surgery he underwent March 23 at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach. A Facebook post about his experience has been shared thousands of times.

Two days before, Jaden had fallen off his bike but appeared to have sustained nothing more serious than some scrapes on his elbows and knees.

Turns out, Jaden also had suffered a potentially fatal head injury.

Two days after he fell, Jaden woke up lethargic and interested in nothing but going back to sleep. Sensing something was wrong, Tiffany Rivera packed her son into a car and headed for St. Mary’s. On the way to the hospital, the boy began vomiting.

“That’s when I knew there was something seriously wrong,” Tiffany Rivera said.

There was. A CAT scan revealed Jaden had a skull fracture and an epidural hematoma, a condition where blood pools between the inner surface of the skull and an outer protective lining.

Minutes after the diagnosis, Jaden was being prepped for a dangerous procedure intended to relieve swelling around the boy’s brain. The surgery lasted nearly three hours and ended with 32 staples in Jaden’s head.

“He is very lucky,” said Dr. Brett Osborn, who performed the surgery at St. Mary’s. “Who knows what would have happened if they had waited another six to eight hours? He might have been dead.”

The scars on Jaden’s head — think of the stitches on a baseball — were so severe that he was counseled before doctors allowed him to look into a mirror.

But instead of being horrified, Jaden asked his mother to post pictures and share his story on Facebook to create awareness that helmets should be worn when riding at all times.

“I figured a few of my friends and family would share it and that would be it,” Tiffany Rivera said.

Instead, the Facebook post went viral, has been shared more than 32,000 times and picked up by news media around the world. NBC’s “Today” show recorded an interview with the Riveras on Friday for future airing.

“He understood this could happen to anybody that doesn’t wear a helmet,” Rivera said. “It was part of the healing process for him to be able to help other people.”

Tiffany Rivera said Jaden was at a family member’s house the day he was hurt and didn’t have access to a helmet that properly fit his head. Jaden was coaxed into riding his bike anyway, his mother said, and he fell after a tire got caught on a sewer grate.

Florida law forbids anyone under 16 from riding a bicycle without a helmet. But Osborn said he’s sees “tons” of such cases at St. Mary’s, which is celebrating Trauma Awareness Month on Tuesday by bringing back former patients who have survived near-death experiences at the hospital’s Trauma Center.

Among those in attendance will be Jaden, who also helped distribute helmets Saturday at the Palm Beach Outlets during Safe Kids Day. Provided a second chance, Jaden and his mother hope to give others the same opportunity.

“I explained to Jaden that you’ll never know if you helped somebody, but wouldn’t it be nice to get the word out and try?” Rivera said.