MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — A freak boating accident left a 14-year-old Manatee County boy with an anchor lodged in his skull and doctors call his survival story "one in a million."
“I can’t believe I had an anchor in my head. Like, that’s pretty crazy," Caleb Bennett said. "My friends now call me the ‘Anchorman’ so that’s kind of cool. I’m kind of a big deal around here.”
Caleb and his family love to fish on the Manatee River. Caleb was boating with his brother and friends when the accident happened in March. His parents, Kelli and Rick Bennett, were in the Bahamas celebrating their wedding anniversary when they got the call.
“We just heard that there was a boating accident and that an anchor hit him in the head,” Rick said.
Caleb told the Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital he remembered feeling the anchor and thinking he just needed to stay calm.
"All the odds were stacked against me and I was going to die, probably I was supposed to die, but yet God saved my life," said Caleb.
“As soon as I got my hands on it, I kind of felt what it was, and I realized it was in my head pretty far. I just stayed calm. I told my friend, ‘Hey, you need to call 911 or I’m going to die,’” he added.
Caleb was flown to Johns Hopkins in St. Peterburg where he immediately underwent brain surgery.
“We needed to take out a big piece of skull, try to take out the pieces of bone and whatever else he had in there from the anchor,” Luis Rodriguez, M.D., a pediatric neurological surgeon at Johns Hopkins, said. “And more important, give his brain space to swell because that’s what was going to happen.”
After his surgery, Caleb was put into a medically induced coma so the swelling could subside. His parents flew home as soon as they got the news and they remember seeing him for the first time.
“When I first saw Caleb, I thought I was going to be sick,” Kelli said. “It’s very hard to see your kid hooked up to every tube, to see that stand with seven to 12 different medicines going in his body. Neck brace.”
“We didn’t know if there was a chance he wouldn’t be able to talk or move his arms or legs,” Rick said.
Eight days in, and things started to look up.
“It looked like we were going to get him back the way we had him before,” Rick said.
Dr. Rodriguez told the family how lucky it was that the anchor didn't touch any of the blood vessels in Caleb's brain. His caretakers say he's a "miracle."
“I’ve seen arrows through and through. I’ve seen bullets through and through. I’ve seen things like this, but I’ve never seen an anchor, number one, and number two, I’ve never seen anybody with an injury like that walk out of the hospital almost completely neurologically intact. That’s one in a million,” Dr. Rodriguez said.
Caleb is slowly but surely getting back to what he loves — the water and fishing. He says he eager to pursue a new passion for spearfishing.
“We’ll forever be in debt to Johns Hopkins All Children’s,” Rick says. “I couldn’t have imagined a level of care was even available, with so many people working around the clock.”
“And now here we are, ultimately sitting with really the same Caleb we had,” Kelli says. “It’s really quite a miracle.”