On September 7, 1978, Emmett Cox, II, MD, jumped on his bicycle alongside classmates for a short ride home from St. George’s University in Grenada. It was the same scenic route the second-year medical student had grown accustomed to, but one that quickly turned tragic when an oncoming bus went out of control and crashed into him head on. Emmett went through the windshield, shattering most of his facial bones, completely ripping off his nose, and cracking his skull. When his classmates saw him at the scene of the accident, they thought he was dead. He was taken to a local hospital for initial medical attention. Overnight, he was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Now, more than 40 years later, his son, Efrem Cox, MD, is working as a neurosurgery spine fellow in the very hospital where his father’s life was saved.
“When I came to Jackson for my interview, I was awestruck” Efrem said. “The neurosurgery department’s strong history of excellence in spine surgery and the excellent care my father received at Jackson Memorial confirmed this would be the best place for me to complete my post-graduate training. My father was elated when he had heard I would be training in the very same hospital where his life was saved.”
The family’s connection with Jackson runs deep.
Following the crash in 1978, the odds were stacked against Emmett, as he underwent multiple lifesaving surgeries at Jackson. There were many who doubted whether he’d ever leave the hospital. He spent months fighting for a chance at life, unable to eat solid food throughout.
Yet, as he was going through the recovery process, Emmett received a gift that inspired him to persevere.
“Just a little over a month after my father was admitted to Jackson, my older brother, Emmett Cox III, was born right here. My mom was eight months pregnant at the time of his accident, and on October 13, she went into labor,” Efrem said. “My brother was on one floor, and my father on another floor. If it wasn’t for the doctors here who saved his life, I wouldn’t be here. My younger brothers would not be here.”
Miraculously, the severe brain injury Emmett suffered did not cause permanent brain damage, and the glass pieces that pierced his eyes did not affect his vision. Over the years, his facial nerve damage and facial sensation would improve. However, Emmett would require years of further facial reconstructive surgeries.
But nothing stopped him from achieving his dream of becoming a physician and an excellent father to his five children: Derrick, Emmett, Efrem, Elliott, and Evan.
Three years following his accident, Emmett was accepted to the University of Southern California’s medical program. Throughout medical school and residency, he continued to undergo reconstructive surgeries.
“It was something our family became accustomed to,” Efrem said. “It gives you strength as a person, to look at everything he went through and realize he had that drive. As a child growing up, I could never tell my father I couldn’t do something or that something was too hard.”
Emmett went on to become an orthopaedic hand surgeon.
That drive to become a doctor became contagious, inspiring three out of his five sons to pursue a career in medicine.
“My older brother Derrick initially wanted to become an engineer, but my father took him around the hospital to shadow him and inspired him to consider medicine. Derrick became a surgical oncologist,” Efrem said. “I wanted to play football and always told my father I was going to play professionally, but my dad would always say, ‘No, you’re going to be a doctor.’”
To date, Emmett has had more than 65 surgeries. He continues to practice orthopedic hand surgery in Southern California, and remains a great inspiration to his sons.
“When I thought about becoming a doctor, I went in thinking I would go into orthopedics like my father,” Efrem said. “But after a neurosurgery rotation and seeing patients survive severe traumatic injuries, I was inspired to be like the doctors at Jackson who saved my father’s life.”