‘He’s awake!’ ‘I couldn’t move or open my mouth. The doctors only gave me a 5% chance of survival.’: Man recounts near-fatal accident, ‘Show gratitude every chance you get’

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“Around 3 p.m. on Monday May 1, 2006, my friend Niko and I left his house on our regular after school trip to get 2 for $1 tacos at Jack in the Box. Neither of us knew this would be our last time going together. We were coming up to our favorite part of the ride, a steep hill about the length of 3 football fields after a sharp left bend in the road.

Niko was about 60 yards ahead of me on a longboard and I was riding his bike, staying behind so I can watch his back in case he fell. I typically rode my skateboard and he rode his bike, but for some reason I left my board at home this time. My last memory is feeling the cool breeze on my face, thinking how cool Niko looked as he crouched down going around the corner and down the hill full speed.

My first memory after that didn’t come until 11 days later. It was only a few seconds of wakefulness before I passed back out, but I remember it well. My mother was on my right, humming a song from my childhood and holding my hand as she cried. On my left was her pastor praying very passionately while rubbing oil on my forehead.

Courtesy of Eli Martinez

A few hours go by and I finally wake up, reaching for my glasses on my nightstand, thinking I was home. Then I noticed I couldn’t move my left leg… or open my mouth… everything was sore and I was in a strange robe in a strange bed surrounded by pillows and plugged into a strange machine. I was extremely confused and was beginning to panic just before a nurse walked by, noticed me sitting up and frantically screamed, ‘He’s awake! He’s awake!’

Courtesy of Eli Martinez

Almost in an instant, several nurses and a doctor rush in and roll my bed out of the ICU, onto an elevator then into another room with a large screen made of 6 smaller screens. The nurses held me down by my arms, legs and torso as the doctor squeezed a tube of clear gel up my right nostril then a plastic feeding tube all the way down to my stomach. I could see the tube making its way to my stomach on the screens and was very frightened, kicking and screaming the whole time. It honestly felt like I was in a horror film.

Once that was done, the nurses took me back on the elevator and to the room I’d be in the rest of my stay. Just as they finished plugging me into an IV and feeding bag, the doctor came in with a clipboard and began asking me questions such as, ‘What’s your name? Birthday? Who’s the president? Any hobbies? Play sports?’ and a few basic math problems before asking if I remember what happened and why I’m in the hospital. Doing my best to answer with my mouth wired shut, I passed his memory and problem solving tests, but couldn’t answer the final question.

Courtesy of Eli Martinez

So he filled me in, explaining that I was hit by a truck going around 45 mph and was almost pronounced dead at the scene. As Niko went around the corner, a 19 year-old-girl in a truck was speeding up the hill and was looking back at Niko as he zoomed past her. As she was making the sharp right turn, she drifted into my lane as I was turning left ready to enjoy the hill we’ve gone down so many times.

Niko heard a loud thud and screech then ran up the hill to see his bike on the side of the road and my motionless body in the middle of the road. I had been knocked back 14 feet through the air and onto my face from the point of impact. Niko immediately ran up to me, thinking I was dead because I wasn’t breathing, and put my head in his lap, unknowingly saving me from drowning in my own blood. I began to cough up blood, slowly beginning to breathe again and he held me there until the police arrived.

I was put in an ambulance that took me to the nearest school where I was life-flighted to Scripps Memorial La Jolla hospital. The first surgery was inserting a titanium rod in my fractured left femur. The reconstructive surgeries on my jaw, left cheek bone, and left orbital surface had to wait until the 8th day because my face was too swollen. In the meantime, the doctors just monitored me, pumping me full of drugs, trying to keep me stable.

My esophagus had closed up and I kept regurgitating anything they tried to feed me. I had also fractured my neck, 5 ribs (3 of them fractured in 2 places and one punctured/collapsed my left lung) fractured lower spine and bruised/swollen brain. To everyone’s surprise, the neck, rib, and spine fractures healed on their own within the first few days!

Although I was showing signs of improvement, the doctors only gave me 5% chance of survival after doing everything they could. They told my mom I might not make it through the night and she could choose to pull the plug or let me go on my own. My mom, having the ultimate faith in me and God, didn’t give up hope for a second and decided that we would keep fighting.

I began violently thrashing in the ICU bed, accidentally kicking a nurse in the face and removing IV needles. Some of the needles accidentally went back in the wrong places and I soon began to flatline for the second time since my arrival, when they were initially trying to stabilize me from the impact. My mom waited outside the room, even more nervous than when she received that first call from the police while waiting in line at the bank, but she never let go of her faith.

Courtesy of Eli Martinez

As everyone fought extremely hard for my life, she called in her pastor to help her pray for me once they were clear to enter the room. Not long after is when my eyes opened for the first time to a scene that will be burned in my memory forever. Waking up from an 11-day coma was very strange to say the least. All this time had gone by where so many incredible individuals came together and held my hand as we courageously battled for my life, even if it meant we would fail. How can I not be grateful? They say it takes a village to raise a child… well it also took a village to bring me back from the brink of death!

After filling me in on what happened, the doctor bluntly stated I would never be able to skateboard or wrestle again and should be happy that I’m still able to walk. Hearing that honestly crushed my soul because those two things were my life. I had just finished my freshman wrestling season about a month and a half prior and was 8 years into skateboarding. May 12-16 were a blur because I was in and out of sleep. My pain level was always an 8 or 9 out of 10 so they had me on a consistent dose of morphine, which knocked me out.

I do remember close friends coming to visit a few times, but even that was a blur. On May 17th they removed the feeding tube, which I was very excited about, and they said I could have apple juice and ice cream, which had to be melted so I could drink it. The next day I was released and left the hospital to doctors and nurses clapping, calling me a miracle. It’s their energy that inspired me to work so hard, gratefully being able to get back on the mats for the rest of high school.

Courtesy of Eli Martinez

My sophomore year was all drilling, no competing, but my junior and senior years I hit the floor running and had two very successful seasons and was a varsity captain. Thankfully, after graduating in 2009, I was able to keep the same energy and began training MMA, boxing, kick boxing, Muay Thai, and strength & conditioning. After 3 years, I ended my amateur MMA record of 3-1.

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Since then I’ve continued to train and teach each one of those martial arts, also adding jiu jitsu in 2018. I am a current active jiu jitsu competitor representing 10th Planet Oceanside with plans on competing in combat jiu jitsu and professional MMA bouts. In the words of Muhammad Ali, ‘Everybody has a purpose in life. Everybody has a destiny. The knowledge of that destiny enables one to fulfill it… life begins when a person realizes their purpose in life.’ It’s not until recent years that I discovered my true purpose; to remind people to show gratitude every chance they get and to keep fighting no matter how small their chances are.

Courtesy of Eli Martinez

I’m extremely grateful to have survived such an experience. Grateful to be able to use the lowest point in my life to draw immense amounts of will power as well as uplift those around me. I know and accept my responsibility to positively affect many lives and will continue to do so using my passion for martial arts, health, and fitness. Any moment can be our last, so while we have the time, use it! Get excited again! Follow your passions, love without fear and do what scares you! Thank you for taking the time to read my story and I hope the fire within you burns brighter each day!”

Courtesy of Eli Martinez

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Eli Martinez. You can follow him on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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