Joseph Guerrinha doesn’t remember how it happened. He’s seen pictures, he’s asked his friends and teammates, but the memory just isn’t there.
And perhaps that’s for the best. His mom’s memories are vivid enough for both of them.
It started out like any other high school game. A four-year starter, returning All-Greater Spokane League forward and team captain, Guerrinha and his Central Valley teammates were leading their arch-rivals at University 3-0 in the first GSL boys soccer game of the year on March 23.
The senior battled a Titan defender near the sideline for a ball in the air. Both players leaped high in the air to head the ball.
“I think they hit each other going for the ball,” CV coach Andres Monrroy recalled. “They went down and Joseph hit his head again on the ground – he probably hit his head two or three times. That is the worst thing I’ve seen as a head coach.”
Both players went down – Guerrinha face first with the defender on his back. Unable to break his fall, he landed face first and did not get up. He did not move.
“As soon as I saw (Guerrinha) go down, I knew it was something serious,” said referee Deb Brock, who was about four long strides away from the play. “I knew in a heartbeat that he was hurt. The way he was laying there I just knew. ”
Cyndi Guerrinha says she’s not one of those mothers who worry about their kids during the game. In fact, she was her boys first soccer coach and now is their biggest fan.
“If I jumped up and ran down on the field, and he just got up and went on with the game, I’d never hear the end of it,” she said.
This time, however, it quickly became apparent that this situation was different. He wasn’t jumping up. In fact, he wasn’t moving.
“Joseph isn’t the kind of player who ever milks an injury,” she said. “He always jumps up and gets back in the game. And since we were up 3-0 there was no reason for him to stay down.”
Second after agonizing second ticked by. And still, he wasn’t moving.
“I kept watching, and he didn’t move,” she said. “I kept looking at other parents, but they wouldn’t look me in the eye.”
The mother of a U-Hi player took Guerrinha by the arm and told her “You need to be on the field,” she said. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, but she basically took me down to the field. When I got down there, that’s when the emotions really hit hard. I started to bawl, and I kept kissing him on the forehead.”
After some four minutes, Guerrinha regained consciousness. Paramedics arrived. Because they could not rule out a possible spinal injury, they immobilized Guerrinha and started an IV before transporting him to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.
“I remember waking up in the ambulance with the paramedic giving me numbers and telling me to remember them, checking me for a concussion,” Joseph said. “I don’t remember the hit at all. The last thing I remember was playing in the game and then waking up in the ambulance. I may never remember exactly what happened.”
Soccer officials are trained to deal with injury situations, Brock said, and she followed her training.
“I was right there when it happened, and the University athletic director (Ken VanSickle) was right there on the sideline when it happened,” she said. “We made eye contact, and he ran off to call 911.
“I’m a player, I’m a coach and I’m a referee in soccer. After what happened, being a mom kicked in and I went home and hugged my kids.”
While other families enjoyed the spring break from school, Cyndi Guerrinha nervously waited for test results. Neurological tests. Cardiology tests. EEGs, EKGs, ultrasounds.
Doctors were concerned about the head injury. But there was cause for concern with an irregularity with Guerrinha’s heart – a concern that, thankfully, came to nothing.
Meanwhile, the Guerrinha family discovered a vast network of support.
“I got cards and letters from all kinds of people, all saying that they were sorry I was hurt and that they were praying for me to recover,” Joseph said. “The U-Hi player I collided with came to the house and told me how sorry he was that I had been hurt and that was really nice. I logged onto Facebook, and there were thousands of people wishing me well – OK, not thousands exactly, but lots and lots of people.”
Brock looked in to see how Guerrinha was recovering, and the Titans’ soccer team sent a gift basket. And the Central Valley soccer family closed ranks and provided plenty of moral support as well.
“Joseph is really the heart and soul of this team,” Monrroy said. “He’s been everything you want a team captain to be and we really missed him while he was gone. I think we were all pretty upset over what happened.”
With each passing day, the news got better.
“The specialist really educated us about concussions,” Cyndi said. “We found out that even what we were initially told in the emergency room was outdated, that they’re learning more and more about concussions and how to treat them.
“I heard other families talking about all the fun things they were going to do over spring break. All I wanted was for my son to be OK.”
The family got its wish.
The initial prognosis was for Guerrinha to be out of action for a month. If all went well, he could be back in action for the Bears this coming week as the team plays its final two regular season games. But Joseph Guerrinha bounced back faster than expected.
“It was really hard to wait,” Joseph said. “But they put me through all kinds of tests. They put me on the treadmill to see how my heart would react, and then they cleared me to start working out again.”
He played most of a half in last week’s win over North Central, although that caused a flash of concern for his mom.
“I have total confidence in what his neurologist told us, that he was cleared to go back and play again,” Cyndi said. “I know there were some other parents who were shocked that we’d let him play again that soon.
“He scored a goal in his first game back, but he did it on another header. When I saw him go up for the ball, my heart stopped. Coach Monrroy told me afterward that he was concerned that first time he went for a header, too.”
“That first game sort of felt like the first time I played a varsity game as a freshman,” Joseph admitted. “But it all came back to me really fast.”
He played the entire game in an overtime loss at Mt. Spokane Wednesday and showed no signs of rust, although losing the game was painful.
“It is so good to have him back,” Monrroy said. “What Joseph brings to this team is a tremendous work ethic. He plays as hard every day in practice as he does in a game and we missed that while he was gone.”
“I’m happy to be back playing,” Joseph said. “And it really makes me happy to discover I have so many people all pulling for me. It feels really good to know that.”