Ryan Brady’s journey from hospital bed to homecoming court

Sydney Hilbush

The last thing you would expect from a 17-year-old awakening from a coma is for him to be smiling. But he was, as usual.

Ryan Brady started Wednesday, Aug. 30, like any typical day. Driving his mom’s car to school with his little brother in the passenger seat, the boys were heading down Paradise Drive on their way to pick up a friend for school. Ryan, going 39 mph, suddenly swerved on a winding curve to avoid hitting oncoming traffic and plunged 80 feet off a steep cliff on top of Paradise Cay. The car flipped eight times until landing, crushed, between a concrete wall and a porch.

Although his younger brother emerged from the accident with only minor cuts and bruises, Ryan was left in critical condition, suffering injuries to his back, neck, arms, hands, clavicle and knee. Ryan lost consciousness soon after the car flipped, falling into a coma with no memory of the two weeks following the accident.

Ryan remained in critical condition at the hospital after a near fatal accident off of Paradise Drive.

“I don’t remember any of the actual accident. The earliest memory I have is the day before the accident. I guess the brain, when it goes through something that traumatic, just totally erases it for you. It knows that it would damage you if you remember that,” Ryan said.

Leah Gustafson, a close friend of Ryan and President of the Interact Club, of which Ryan is the Vice President, was driving behind Ryan when he spun off the road. At the time, Gustafson did not know Ryan was the driver, yet called her dad anyway to go check out the scene since the accident occurred about 20 seconds away from her house, according to Gustafson.

“I refused to believe that it was Ryan who was in that car. It came as such a shock to me. I was really taken by surprise and I had a very severe reaction to knowing that the accident was someone I knew and was close to,” Gustafson said.

The brothers were rushed to Marin General Hospital after being extracted from the car and Ryan was then transported to the Oakland Children’s Hospital for major surgeries. Ryan spent two weeks in the Oakland Kaiser Hospital before being transferred to the Kaiser Vallejo Hospital, where his rehabilitation and physical therapy took place. Although Ryan is still undergoing surgeries months after the accident, his broken back and neck were both healed in under six weeks.

Ryan’s accident left the community speechless and his family shaken. Each day presented a new silver lining between life and death for Ryan while in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). After 33 days in the ICU and numerous weeks in physical therapy and rehabilitation, Ryan is left with one final surgery on his elbow early next year before finishing off the surgical process, according to Ryan’s mom, Kathleen Brady.

“Thinking of [the injuries] he went through to thinking that [now] the elbow is the worst part…he could have easily been paralyzed. He could have died. He could have easily died,” Kathleen said.

After suffering severe damage to his back and neck, Ryan needed a “halo” that would stabilize his spinal cord.

One of the more prominent surgeries Ryan experienced was “halo” surgery. The halo was intended to re-stabilize his neck while restricting his ability to move his neck from side to side.

“There are needles, like screws, in your head that go through the muscles and it made it so you can’t physically open your mouth,” Ryan said.

Ryan’s halo came off within six weeks, a relatively short period of time, considering the substantial damage done to his neck. According to Kathleen, halos typically take three months or more to complete the stabilization process.

“It’s lucky that I am young because I recovered so much faster than I would have if I was like 50 years old. Especially because at this age your bones are still growing, and they were able to completely heal back together within six weeks,” Ryan said.

Despite the trauma of the situation, the Bradys have buoyed from the experience by a tremendous outpouring of support from the community as a whole, most specifically from Redwood itself. Ryan’s extensive stay in the ICU was accompanied with numerous hospital visits from Redwood teachers, counselors, staff members and close friends.

“David Sondheim let Ryan’s close friends leave school on day two [of the accident] when Ryan was about to have halo surgery, and these boys just needed to see him,” Kathleen said. “They needed to see he was alive. Ryan was on a ventilator and in a coma. He could hear what they were saying but he couldn’t respond. Those boys came with tears down their eyes. They just needed to know he would be okay.”

The stream of support for the Brady family has been connected with CaringBridge.com and MealTrain.com, websites that are run by their close friends providing essential resources to the Bradys. Through CaringBridge.com, subscribers to Ryan’s page are able to follow a timeline of Ryan’s recovery beginning from the initial day of the accident, with continued updates posted by close friends. MealTrain is a platform that provides the opportunity for friends, family and strangers to supply the Bradys with home cooked meals as well as groceries.

“My parents literally haven’t had to cook a meal since the accident because the community has totally supported us and have been giving us so much food basically since the week after the accident, and we have [food] scheduled until the middle of November,” Ryan said.

Ryan’s accident and coma took the Bradys’ world by storm. These websites provide an unusual outlet for Kathleen, supplying anxious followers with information regarding Ryan’s recovery.

The family dynamic adjusted to adapt to Ryan’s situation, sometimes requiring Kathleen to spend 24 hours, or weeks at a time, at the hospital.

“Everything is shifted. He can’t even shower. I have to wash his hair in the sink everyday. I know that he totally appreciates it though, and he tells me a lot ‘thanks for everything.’ Thanks for washing his hair and cleaning the eight screw holes in his head,” Kathleen said.

As with any major traumatic injury, there are sure to be surprises along the way. In Ryan’s case, his surprise came in the form of language. When Ryan woke up from his coma, his brain had begun processing information in Spanish, and he was only able to talk in Spanish.

“I was already fluent before the accident, but now I literally speak Spanish at the same level I speak English. When the doctors put me in a coma at the Oakland hospital I woke up and my brain only let me speak Spanish,” Ryan said.

Ryan’s fluency in Spanish has cultivated positive reactions in his past. According to Brady, most people are surprised to find a blond, white, blue eyed kid speaking fluent Spanish with a heavy Mexican accent. Ryan believes that his brain transitioned to “Spanish mode” because he wanted to reexperience the praise he had previously received regarding his fluency.

Ryan’s sudden inability to speak English required the help of multiple translators at the hospital to help him communicate with his parents and doctors. However, a few days after Ryan woke up from the coma, his mind “switched” back to English.

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After months of recovery, Ryan returned back to Redwood during homecoming week after being nominated for the Homecoming Court.

Although near-death experiences are often considered unfortunate, Ryan considers the accident a mixed blessing. Through his recovery process, Ryan has witnessed the influx of emotional and mental support from his community, some of which he was not expecting from his peers. In particular, Ryan was shocked to find out he had been elected to the Homecoming Court after nearly two months of absence at school.

“[Ryan] being elected to the homecoming court just brought tears to my eyes,” Kathleen said.  “It just spoke so much to me about the Redwood seniors, because they understand how much he’s been through and that he almost died. And they care that much about him to nominate him and acknowledge him.”

Ryan’s stable condition encouraged his participation with the homecoming activities each day at lunch. The support from his classmates has assisted Ryan in his speedy recovery, prompting his expected return to Redwood for the second semester of the school year.

“I truly believe in the power of prayer and healing and positivity, and Ryan is living proof of that,” Kathleen said. “Ryan has been so positive and so grateful. He realizes he is getting a second chance at life.”


This article was updated on July 17, 2019, to protect the information of those mentioned in the story.