It was a typical play at the preseason 7-on-7 tournament Saturday at Carmel Middle School (Monterey County, California). An overthrown ball for junior Angel Bravo sailed just out of reach.
He leaped up in an attempt to catch the pass and fell back to the ground, first hitting the field with his back and continuing to his shoulders and the back of his head.
“The fall didn’t look like anything out of the ordinary,” Gonzales (California) High School head coach Art Berlanga said. “I’ve seen that fall hundreds of times.”
Bravo got up and felt a little dizzy. He said he was okay but one of the coaches at the tournament advised him to sit the next play out and rest.
He asked for some Gatorade from his mom after he sat down and as she goes to grab a bottle, Bravo passes out and hits his head again on the ground.
That’s when things became more serious. At first, the coaches and trainer thought it was heat stroke and applied ice to his head, armpits and feet to cool him down. After he was unresponsive, Bravo’s little sister called 911.
“I feel like we did everything we could,” Berlanga said. “We didn’t move him and did the best we could.”
Bravo was rushed to Natividad’s trauma center where tests revealed life-threatening brain hemorrhaging. They sedated him and took him into surgery immediately.
“He was in for two hours and then it was just a waiting game,” Berlanga said. “The plan was to have him sedated for 48 hours to let the swelling subside, let his body recover and see the kind of damage he suffered.”
But that didn’t go exactly to plan; he woke up just past 24 hours after the surgery.
As he woke up with no memory of coming there, Bravo tried to pull his IVs out and was distressed. Natividad staff came in to calm him down, see what had happened and asked him if he knew where he was.
“He shook his head (to say) no, which was huge,” Berlanga said. “That meant he both understood what they were saying and knew how to respond. He was able to speak a little bit, too.”
That’s a far better outcome than anticipated. Bravo’s loved ones were bracing for outcomes that ranged from full body paralysis at worst to a full recovery at best.The family preferred not to comment and deferred to Berlanga.
“The doctors description was he’s a living miracle,” Berlanga said. “What he’s able to do in such a short amount of time is incredible.”
By the time Berlanga and others visited Bravo Monday morning, he was able to speak normally and seemed like his usual self.
“His first question was, ‘When can I play football again?'” Berlanga said. “Most of us weren’t even thinking of that at all.”