Sixteen years old, 20 days in a coma

October 4, 2013, should have been a good day for Manuel Gutierrez. Sixteen at the time, he was riding shotgun with a couple of friends. They were having a lot of fun. When his buddy started playing around, the car hit a curb and flipped. The friend in the back seat was OK but, sadly, the driver died as a result of the accident.

Manuel was sent to Ben Taub Hospital, where he spent 20 days in a coma. His injuries were extensive: a broken pelvis, collarbone, elbow and neck. His skull was fractured. Internal hemorrhaging necessitated emergency surgery, and he lost his spleen.

Not surprisingly, Manuel doesn’t remember a lot about his month-and-a-half hospital stay. Once he awoke, he was confused about where he was and why he was there. At first, his collarbone caused the most discomfort. Later, he wore a halo, a medical device to stabilize his spine, for four months.

Reina Hernandez, his mother, remembers it all. She never left the hospital.

She says, “His care was very excellent. They treated him nicely.”  And just as important, the hospital staff’s care of Reina was exceptional too. “They provided interpreters and answered all my questions. We have the best specialists in Houston at Ben Taub. They are young doctors and are excellent.

“I was scared. But I trusted that God would do something. Now, I want other young people to know what happened so they will be more responsible.”

Manuel’s recovery would be tough for any teenager, but he says that isn’t the hardest part. “It’s knowing that I’m here, and my friend died.”

He’s through with his surgeries, and his head injuries continue to heal. “I get upset easily and forget things.”

He’s back in school, a sophomore at Davis High School. After high school, he plans to fulfill a life-long dream — join the U.S. Marine Corps.

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