Student attends UNCW two years after narrowly surviving jet ski accident

Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 6:27 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2022 at 6:32 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Freshman college student Alex King is starting his college career two years later than expected after a horrific jet skiing accident derailed his original plans in 2020.

King was enjoying the rest of his summer vacation at Lake Norman near Charlotte just days before he was set to start college in Charleston, South Carolina. He, unfortunately, didn’t make it to move-in day that year. A head-on jet ski collision led to severe injuries including three broken ribs, a broken clavicle, a punctured lung and a traumatic brain injury.

“One of the attending doctors came out and told me he was getting ready to have lung surgery and ‘we need to prepare you,’” said King’s father, Tony King. “I said, ‘for what, death?’”

Despite losing 18 units of blood before surgeons could get him into that surgery, he miraculously survived. Still, there was a long road to recovery ahead of him. King was in a coma for two weeks.

“It’s emotional because you see your son just laying there in a bed, just not moving,” said King’s father. “I know he heard us. I know he did. He didn’t give up because we were encouraging him, just don’t give up, don’t give up...”

After waking up, Alex King wasn’t focused on college courses. Instead, he spent the next two years relearning how to walk, eat and even sleep.

“The vision has been the hardest part,” said Alex King. “My eyes are just slightly misaligned. That slight misalignment is the result of nerve paralysis, resulting in double vision.”

Today, he’s still recovering but now he’ll do so from his new home at UNC Wilmington.

“It’s like a big change for, I mean, anybody, but when you have a really bad brain injury, this is a lot. There’s so much stimulation. I joke with some of my friends in Charlotte, I’m O-S, over-stimulated.”

King is still working on his memory and vision -- but the silver lining of it all is that he now has his sights set on a promising future.

“I’d love to be an optometrist because double vision and nystagmus -- that’s where everything shakes -- nobody, no optometrist or ophthalmologist that I’ve met with really understands,” said King. “I would be able to sympathize or empathize with the patients and try to help.”

Despite being hesitant at first, King’s doctors recommended he start with only three credits this semester, equaling about one class. The hope is that it will advance his traumatic brain injury recovery.

“Because it’s a challenge and my brain needs a challenge. It’s been a two-year... almost like a vacation,” said King. “I’m excited for the challenge for my personal improvement of my brain.”

King and his friends describe him as the competitive type, which seems to ring true since he decided to enroll in four classes this semester. He says that may change as the semester goes on, though good grades aren’t his goal for the year.

“[I’ll know it was a successful year] if when I go back home in Charlotte -- my memory and cognition and executive functions -- if that is much improved, which I believe it will be, that will say it was a success.”

His dad shares that hope for King’s first year in college. Move-in day and the first day of classes are milestones his family only hoped they would see.

“I am most proud that he didn’t give up,” said his father.