At a recent paintball match, Matt Finch found himself in a foxhole with 16-year-old Brandon Burbridge, guarding the team’s flank against potential sneak attacks.
“We’re kinda bored, we’re just holding a defensive line,” Finch said. “So we were just talking, ‘Hey man, what’s going on?’ ”
What happened next, Finch said, typified the Nine Mile Falls kid who now, after a traumatic brain injury, will be donating his organs to those in need. The two – who met when Burbridge was just 4 or 5 years old after the boy snuck up behind Finch and fired paintballs relentlessly – noticed out of the corners of their eyes a flash.
“We turn and shoot at it, and it’s a bald head,” Finch said. “We fired probably 50 rounds into this guy, and both of us instinctively said, ‘Oh God, are you alright?’ ”
Burbridge grew up on the paintball and airsoft field owned by his father, Dale, near Ford. The Lakeside High School student was declared brain dead after falling from the back of a pickup truck last Friday, and now the kindness he displayed to family and friends will be on display one more time, said Kim Davis, one of Burbridge’s aunts.
“He probably had one of the biggest hearts you’ll ever find,” she said. “So, it’s such a blessing that we’ll be able to give his heart to somebody else, because that was one of his best assets.”
Before the incident, Burbridge made his own decision to donate his organs.
“We’ve had some death in our family,” said Cindy Skeie, another one of Burbridge’s aunts, noting that most of his family have made the decision to donate their organs after death.
“I think it’s a part of him hearing us, indicating how important it was, that he personally made that choice when he was able to get his driver’s license,” Skeie continued.
Skeie, who lives with fibromyalgia, said she’ll remember the nephew who unhesitatingly offered to help her with yardwork, always smiling and showing up with what she called “big teddy bear hugs.”
“He’s just always had those big brown eyes, and he looked at you and you just kind of melt, no matter what the circumstances or where you’re at,” Skeie said.
News of Burbridge’s hospitalization spread quickly across social media over the weekend, with several former teammates and friends from Nitehawk Paintball and Airsoft offering their condolences to the field’s owner and Brandon’s father. A planned match on Saturday will still take place as scheduled, said Davis.
“Dale refuses to cancel it,” she said. “We’re just going to promote it, and have it as yet another celebration of Brandon.”
The younger Burbridge got involved in both sports at a young age, the family said.
“My brother created the business,” Skeie said. “That was kind of his way to bond with his sons. They both love the interaction between the games that they do out there, along with helping others get involved and enjoy the passion they have with it.”
Burbridge was in the process of becoming a full member of the Irregulators, a paintball team chartered in Spokane that now spans five states, Finch said. Burbridge spent his childhood traveling with the team, among players who were often older than him, but who instantly connected with the kid Finch called “a goofball” who would don a dinosaur costume or blow bubbles on the field to lighten the mood.
“I’ve traveled with this kid most of my life,” said Finch, 38. “I was with him the last game he played, he was with me the entire game.”
The teenager was airlifted Friday to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, where he underwent a battery of tests to determine the extent of his brain injury, the family said. After the decision was made to prepare the organs for donation, the medical team has been working to maximize the donor organs available, a list that Davis said includes his kidneys, pancreas, heart, liver, eye and skin tissue. And now, his lungs.
“At first they didn’t think Brandon’s lungs were going to be viable to survive,” Davis said. “But Brandon is a very, very strong, strapping young man. And he’s a fighter. And he proved them wrong.”
Kidneys are the organ most in demand nationwide and across the Inland Northwest, according to Cate Oliver, a spokeswoman at LifeCenter Northwest, the organization responsible for organ procurement in Alaska, North Idaho, Montana and Washington.
“In Washington state, there are roughly 1,300 people waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant, which is around 79 percent of the transplant waiting list in the state,” Oliver wrote in an email.
An online fundraiser was launched Saturday to cover the costs of the airlift, which was not covered by the family’s insurance plan. The organizers say they intend to spread Burbridge’s remains on the paintball field near Ford, and any money beyond what is needed to cover the cost of the helicopter service will go toward a memorial that Davis said is scheduled for Memorial Day.
The younger Burbridge has one surprise left for his paintball-playing dad, Finch said: an armed paint mine that is still ready to ambush his father.
“We were going to talk his dad to walking into it,” Finch said, chuckling. “We’re still going to do it. I let him know it’s his last joke.”
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