JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – This Saturday evening, A Night for Heroes will be kicking off at the Hyatt in downtown Jacksonville, honoring all the people involved in treating a man who nearly lost his life in a crash.
This year, the story centers on Chris Hemmen, a high school senior who was ready to graduate and move on to college. But less than two years ago, he was fighting for his life at UF Health Jacksonville.
"All I heard was, 'Chris, accident, severe brain injury, get to the hospital, now,'" said Chris Hemmen's mother, Pam. "I just dropped the phone."
On July 23, 2017, she had sent her son to his part-time job where he coaches kids. He left, giving his mom a thumbs-up and a smile.
Minutes later, he was battling to stay alive.
Driving down Bartram Park Boulevard, Chris Hemmen's car ran through standing water, hydroplaned, hit a curb and crashed into a tree.
"You could even see in the car some of his hair where it was pulled out of his scalp," Pam Hemmen said.
The damage was so devastating that the first deputy on the scene not only called for EMS, he also radioed for traffic homicide detectives. The first fire-rescue crewman on the scene, a friend of the family, got Chris Hemmen out of the car and rushed him to the hospital.
"I don't remember anything from that morning," Chris Hemmen said. "I only remember the night before -- I went to the movies with my friends."
The team at UF Health calmly worked to help Chris Hemmen. His mother stayed close by.
"Immediately, the nurse there in the trauma center, Jessica, she was just like, 'Mom, you need to come with me,' and I was like, 'Whoa. No. I need a blanket. Chris needs a blanket. He's cold,'" Pam Hemmen said. "(She) put her hands on my shoulders (and said), 'Take a deep breath. We're gonna take care of Chris.'"
Chris Hemmen made it out of the trauma center but his recovery was extensive. He was in a coma and spent 21 days in intensive care.
While he did, friends, neighbors and members of the community helped his family cope. His mother started the Facebook group "Thumbs Up For Chris" to keep everyone posted. Over time, hundreds of people joined the group to offer support.
With support across his community – even celebrities offering a thumbs-up for Chris – Hemmen is recovering, and his family are praising the care they received.
"You just think of doctors and they don't have time for that stuff," Pam Hemmen said. "But now this doctor from UF Health is calling me on my cellphone because he heard Chris needed to have certain things done."
Chris Hemmen is now a senior at Bartram Trail High School and has been accepted into the University of North Florida. He plans to start right after he graduates.