James MacNevin holds a painting his aunt created for him that represents his sense of humour

James MacNevin holds a painting his aunt created for him that represents his sense of humour

Scar has changed his life

Just two years ago, James MacNevin was a typical 16-year-old — skateboard in one hand and an attitude in the other. That all changed more than a year ago on a slippery patch of Highway 125, known locally as Peacekeepers Highway, when a series of events would leave him living with only half a skull.

SYDNEY, N.S. — Just two years ago, James MacNevin was a typical 16-year-old — skateboard in one hand and an attitude in the other.

That all changed more than a year ago on a slippery patch of Highway 125, known locally as Peacekeepers Highway, when a series of events would leave him living with only half a skull.

James was a passenger on Jan. 6, 2011, with two other teens in a car that spun out of control about 6:30 p.m. and collided with an oncoming truck.

While the others in the car suffered only slight injuries, James was raced to the Cape Breton Regional Hospital with a broken arm, a punctured lung and serious head injury to begin a series of procedures that would save his life.

“Yeah, yeah, I know I’m a miracle,” he said during an interview at his home with a sly smile on his face.

His mom Cheryl, who rolled her eyes at that comment, said her son’s positive attitude has been an inspiration to their family.

“My sister-in-law said if you are ever feeling sorry for yourself, go spend time with James,” said Cheryl. “He changes your perspective. He’s not showing off. It is just his attitude about the whole thing.”

The night of the accident, local medical teams worked for hours to stabilize him, before diagnosing him with brain swelling and airlifting him to Halifax for more specialized treatment, including removal of his cranial bone flap.

An eight-hour surgery was followed by a medically induced coma that lasted weeks to help him heal from four separate injuries to his brain.

Surgeries that followed would see the flap that covers half of his skull added and removed due to infection. Eventually it was decided a synthetic one was the best option, but that became infected too.

Now with the entire left side of his skull gone, he waits patiently for the sixth and, he hopes, final procedure.

James doesn’t remember the accident, but his family continues to be inspired by the acts of kindness and professionalism that are helping him work his way past it.

“They said when I get the bone flap in, it is just like a regular head, so I’m pretty pumped about that. But everyone is different.”

He’s looking forward to skateboarding again and twice daily workouts that kept him at a fit 150 pounds and not the 113 he dipped to after the crash.

“The day of the accident we had gotten up at about 5 a.m. and we both went to the gym,” said Cheryl.

“Then we’d come home, he’d get ready for school and me work. He’d go back to the gym that night.”

He skipped the nightly workout the day of his accident.

“If only I (hadn’t), this wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

His age is one of the reasons there are expectations for a full recovery.

“Because he was 16 when it happened, the neurosurgeon explained his brain was still growing,” said Cheryl. “His brain learned to adapt and reroute itself. His frontal lobe damaged his rational thinking, his impulse control — all that rerouted.”

For now, having no bone flap means balance is a bit of a problem. He wore a helmet for a time, but he now comfortably makes his way without it.

There was also some difficulty finding his words in the days after he was brought out of his coma.

“It was like a cabinet that fell over,” he said. “I lost all the words that I had. I lost everything and then I had to find them.”

He now speaks perfectly after he “found” and “refiled” his words.

“It took a couple of times and then it stayed in.”

There are still some complications he must deal with every day, though.

“We get nervous as parents because that is just scalp on brain,” Cheryl said. “People come up and hug him. You’ll see James pull back.

“We are very protective over him. I’m sure he is never going to want to hear ‘Watch your head’ again.”

Not hearing those words is followed closely by no longer being under 24-hour surveillance by his family.

“I want to be free, eating what I want,” James said. “It is going to be awesome.”

He’s also looking forward to a return to school.

“It’s weird. Some people don’t survive after something like that, but I did. Why? Our ongoing joke is that I’m meant for big things. I’m going to cure cancer or something.”

He laughs at that notion, adding “there’s no way. Sometimes I think I want to be a doctor, a doctor with a (synthetic) bone flap that puts in bone flaps. That would be crazy.”

A medical checkup is scheduled for this month and he’s hopeful the new bone flap will come soon after.

But if they have to wait, that’s no problem, either. “I’m the first one to admit when you go to outpatients that you are cranky because you are waiting and waiting,” Cheryl said.

“But that night James had his accident the whole emergency room closed for him, one person. You don’t know what goes on behind those doors. They were saving his life and someone with a cold had to wait. If we have to sit in outpatients again, I’ll sit patiently.”

Speaking to some of the people who worked on her son that fateful night, she has come to realize the medical community wasn’t sure he was even going to make it from Sydney to Halifax because of the extent of his injuries.

“I see now what they saw. I didn’t know how rough he was. He looked fine. I didn’t see what was on the inside.” Because he did make it and is now thriving, she is forever thankful to the medical community, from the helicopter pilot who flew her son to Halifax, to the first responders at the scene of the accident and the countless others who supported them through various acts of kindness.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels allowed four straight goals from the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night on the road. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers hand Red Deer Rebels 10th straight loss

Tigers 4 Rebels 2 Through 17 games in the shortened WHL season,… Continue reading

Meghan Huizing has been selected by Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools as a finalist for the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) 2021 Edwin Parr Award. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Regional Catholic Schools)
Red Deer Catholic names finalist for Edwin Parr Award

Meghan Huizing from St. Gregory the Great Catholic School in Blackfalds has… Continue reading

GrammaLink-Africa members are participating in the Stride to Turn the Tide campaign until June 30. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer group walking to raise money for African grandmothers

A group of central Albertans will be walking every day until the… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Montreal Canadiens' Tyler Toffoli celebrates his goal past Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom during second-period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Toffoli scores twice, Canadiens put some distance on Flames with 2-1 win

Toffoli scores twice, Canadiens put some distance on Flames with 2-1 win

Canadian prop Jake Ilnicki savouring life in Seattle, looks forward to facing Arrows

Canadian prop Jake Ilnicki savouring life in Seattle, looks forward to facing Arrows

Corey Conners, of Canada, hits out of a bunker on the seventh hole during the final round of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., Sunday, April 11, 2021. Conners notched six birdies on his back nine to take the lead after his second round of the RBC Heritage on Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matt Slocum
Canadian Corey Conners surges into lead at PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage

Canadian Corey Conners surges into lead at PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage

Patrick Marleau poised to break Gordie Howe’s games record

Patrick Marleau poised to break Gordie Howe’s games record

Leylah Annie Fernandez of Canada serves to Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic in round 1 of the Rogers Cup women's tennis tournament in Toronto, Monday August 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
Rebecca Marino propels Canada into 2-0 lead over Serbia at Billie Jean King Cup

Rebecca Marino propels Canada into 2-0 lead over Serbia at Billie Jean King Cup

Dalton Kellett pulls out of the pits during a practice session for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in Indianapolis, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. Dalton Kellett is pleased his second career season in IndyCar will be different than his first, which started on an elaborate iRacing rig in his home office in Indianapolis because of COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Darron Cummings
Canada’s Dalton Kellett set for a more stable season as an IndyCar driver

Canada’s Dalton Kellett set for a more stable season as an IndyCar driver

Canada head coach Bev Priestman reacts during the women's international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Rui Vieira
Canadian women get peek at their possible road at Olympic soccer tournament

Canadian women get peek at their possible road at Olympic soccer tournament

Head coach John Tait talks to his team as Canada takes on Japan in women's sevens rugby action at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Rugby Canada says probe into complaint from members of women’s 7s team is complete

Rugby Canada says probe into complaint from members of women’s 7s team is complete

Most Read