Brad Ebner has reached two milestones that were once a dim hope. On March 2, he turned 18 years old. Today, March 29, he is six months into his new life.
“He’s walking, talking, joking around,” Dr. Mark Brisby said. “It’s a miracle.”
Brisby was on the sideline during the September 29 high school football game between the Dos Pueblos Chargers and the visiting Righetti Warriors. Late in the fourth quarter Ebner, a DP running back, picked up 15 yards for a key first down. Ebner never went down easily, but there was something about the end of this run that got Brisby’s attention.
“I saw the hit directly across the field from me,” said Brisby, a chiropractor who specializes in sports medicine. “I watched him get up and head for the huddle. He looked right into my eyes and came toward me. His legs buckled, and he collapsed into my arms. I guided him down on his back. His left pupil was blown out. Then he stopped breathing. He was lifeless. I’ve been on football sidelines for 26 years and never seen anything like it.”
Drs. Brisby and Steve Hollstein, an orthopedist, removed Ebner’s chinstrap and adjusted his position. He started breathing again. Then standby paramedics took over and rushed the player in an ambulance-at $500 a game, the most important investment Dos Pueblos ever made-to Cottage Hospital. Ebner’s brain was being flooded with blood and his life depended on prompt surgery, performed by Dr. Tom Jones, to stem the flow and relieve the pressure.
Ebner came out of the ordeal in a semi-paralyzed state. He was fed through a tube. A section of his skull was temporarily sewn into his abdomen. It would be returned to its original place a month later.
The restoration of Brad Ebner began at the Rehabilitation Institute at Santa Barbara, where he underwent intensive physical therapy. He is currently learning to adapt to his new life at another rehab facility, Solutions, while spending alternate weekends at the homes of his parents, Chuck and Cheryl. Soon he will return home full-time while continuing therapy as an outpatient, Cheryl Ebner said.
“It can take years to recover from traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. Cheryl Ellis, medical director at the Rehabilitation Institute. “Children are better off than adults who don’t have family around them.”
At his mother’s home last weekend, Ebner had lots of company, including his dog Ruby, a chocolate lab, his grandparents Jim and Shirley Brown from Tulare, and his best friend, Robert Krier. The young Ebner talked in brief sentences and gleefully recognized the expression “TGIF.” “Thank God it’s Friday,” he said.
“It’s hard not seeing Brad at school,” said Krier, a Dos Pueblos senior who blocked for Ebner on the football team. “You were the best runner,” Krier said as his friend smiled at him. “He had a style, but he was modest. When he scored, he never got over-excited. He was like LaDainian Tomlinson. I want to see him play again. Look at his progress.”
His progress was on display last week at the Rehabilitation Institute, where Ebner demonstrated his ability to walk nimbly with the assistance of WalkAide, a device attached below his right knee that electronically stimulates a nerve controlling the movement of the ankle and foot. Provided locally by Nobbe Orthopedics, the newly developed WalkAide helps victims of stroke and traumatic brain injury avoid the tendency to drop their feet, which might cause them to stumble.
Ebner expects to be walking and running without the $4,495 device someday. Until then, it’s another expense. The community has pitched in to help the injured athlete. The next fundraiser, Cheryl Ebner said, will be a screening of the movie Quantum Hoops on the morning of April 22 at the Riviera Theatre.