Matthew Belden of Laguna Beach describes the miraculous recovery of his 12-year-old son, Brayden, after a snowboarding accident last year. This is his story:
Brayden had gone off that jump a couple of times already. We were at Oregon’s Mount Bachelor in February 2018. He’d snowboarded 16 or 20 times and progressed fast, doing stuff set aside for Olympians. Though only 11 years old, Brayden was a top surfer with lots of sponsorships, and his skills immediately translated to snow.
But this time, he went off that jump faster, higher, and a little off balance. When I went around to catch up to him, he was just lying there, lifeless. His eyes were in the back of his head. No pulse. No breath. If I didn’t give him CPR, he could have died.
His brain injury was rare. He injured the basal ganglia and thalamus. For that injury, the mortality rate was nearly 100 percent.
When he got choppered down to a hospital in Bend, a priest was waiting for us. The doctor gave him two hours. “If he doesn’t show more signs of life, it’s over.” He did. A Learjet flew him to Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland. They told us he might not wake from the coma. After 21 days, he did.
You don’t allow yourself to get too optimistic. Yeah, he woke up, but he’s a quadriplegic, can’t speak, and needs tubes in his stomach and throat.
Fortunately, he’s an athlete. As his brain healed for five months, he did what they said he couldn’t: talk, walk, breathe, eat, chew, spit, swallow. He came home in June and started training his ass off in CHOC’s rehab program. Same thing in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins. Every day, he goes to rehab from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Brayden doesn’t complain. He told the doctor who’s going to clean out the scar tissue from his shoulder “I’m giving it 110 percent.” We all are. I researched two therapies we’re using: MSC (mesenchymal stem cell) therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. We harvested his own stem cells, replicated them by the millions, and put them back to hunt for and fix trauma. He’s also one of the first here doing hyperbaric, which is not yet FDA approved. Studies show it can minimize injury by promoting red blood cells and angiogenesis (tissue growth).
Brayden walks with a limp and talks in a whisper. His memory’s back, and he converses, but often at 7-year-old level. He needs help getting dressed. His right side is locked up. But there’s progress. Every three or four weeks, he’s a different kid. The first two years see the bulk of recovery from a brain injury; we’re only at eight months (right now).
He’s a fighter. He wants to surf next summer. I don’t know if it’s realistic, but if his shoulder gets fixed, he can paddle and swim.
Being well-known for surfing has helped. World Tour surfer Griffin Colapinto led a fundraiser for him with Stance, and Laguna Surf and Sport did a fundraising party, too.
Sometimes Brayden gets emotional. “Why did I go off that jump?” But now he sees it as, “I have a new purpose in life. Stay happy.” He’s on a different path now. But he’s inspiring people. If you were to ask me, I think God threw him back to help leave this world a better place.