The arrival of the new year hasn't been easy for Everett Zamarron-Smith. At first, the Gilroy teenager kept pointing at the "2013" date on a calendar in his home, confused and upset.

"He couldn't understand where the time went," said Delva Zamarron, his mother. "So we had to replay everything for him. 'You had an accident. You hit your head. You had brain damage.' He just kept saying, 'No, no, no, no!' "

Everything stopped for Everett on June 5 when he fell from his skateboard on a steep street, violently slamming his head. Everett, who turns 17 on Wednesday, wasn't wearing a helmet and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Seven months later, he continues to have severe memory loss and is relearning such basic functions as walking.

Delva, a single mother of three who has been on leave from her job while caring for Everett, said his gradual improvement gives her hope he will make a full recovery. But she still is coming to terms with a horrific accident that, in an instant, not only changed Everett's life but the lives of everyone in their family.

"It's just so hard to comprehend," Delva said. "You keep feeling like you're going to wake up from this dream one of these days and everything will be fine. But the dream really is a nightmare, and you never wake up."

As she wiped her eyes, Everett reached over and hugged his mom with his good left arm.

"But it's OK," Delva quickly added, "because you're going to be better."

Everett broke into a wide smile.


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His 6-foot-1 height is disguised because he now sits in a wheelchair. Everett largely is quiet, stoically taking in his surroundings, unless asked a question. Even then his answers are short and often a noncommittal "yes and no" -- either to cover for memory lapses or because he struggles to verbalize his thoughts.

Thick, dark hair mostly covers the sharp indentation on the left side of his head, which is a reminder of the surgery doctors performed when they temporarily removed part of his skull to allow for brain swelling after the accident.

"Sometimes he touches his head, and he'll have a moment of clarity," Delva said. "He wonders where his life has gone, and he always says the same thing: 'Oh, man!' "

Everett, who sang in the school chorus, had just finished his sophomore year at Gilroy High when he went skateboarding with a friend on one of the first days of summer vacation.

"Everything changed so fast," Delva said.

Even though Everett has no memory of what happened that day, Delva will never forget. Her son's friend called crying and screaming. Everett had picked up too much speed on his long board, went flying backward and landed on his head.

Delva remembers arriving at the chaotic scene. She told the unconscious Everett she loved him before he was transported by helicopter to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Then, a 25-day bedside vigil followed as he remained in a coma.

"Everett suffered a very significant injury," said Dr. Thao Duong, the vice chairwoman of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Valley Medical Center. "I can't imagine how a parent feels watching this happen to your child. Your whole life suddenly becomes focused on taking care of them. It's very emotionally draining. It's just sad for everyone."

Skateboarding injuries are not unusual. There are more than 6,000 emergency-room visits each year for people younger than 19 with traumatic brain injuries, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study in 2011.

"In Everett's case, he would have been more protected with a helmet," Duong added.

That's why Delva has become an advocate for the importance of helmets and uses a blog to help spread the word.

Even after emerging from his coma, Everett's ordeal was just beginning. He suffered a setback in August when he developed hydrocephalus -- fluid on the brain -- and needed further surgery to implant a shunt. Everett was catapulted back to square one, losing the memory he had reclaimed. He wouldn't be released until October.

"It was like bringing home a grown baby because we had to help him with everything," Delva said. "Even then, he couldn't remember who I was. That was probably the hardest part."

Therapy sessions at Valley Medical Center's Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program are helping him regain cognitive function as well as use of the right side of his body. But it leaves him exhausted.

"He'll be up all night with these terrible headaches, saying: 'My brain, my brain,' " Delva said. "But what's really happening is that his brain is rewiring itself. It's part of the healing process."

As her life revolves around Everett, Delva has worried she's not paying enough attention to daughter Lakien, 19, who attends junior college in Sacramento, and her 13-year-old son, Coady. There also are the financial concerns. That includes battling insurance red tape preventing them from getting Everett a custom-fitted wheelchair.

But there also have been incredible acts of kindness. Gavilan College, where she is a department assistant, has told her to just worry about Everett. Members of her church have provided help, including meals. Students at St. Mary's School in Los Gatos, who saw a classmate recover from a brain injury after a skateboarding accident, donated $1,200.

Duong said that in the past, the belief was that the chances for recovery in patients decrease sharply after six months.

"But now we're seeing improvement in people long after that," Duong added. "So our expectation is that he will continue to get better with therapy."

In fact, Everett will return soon to Gilroy High in a special-education curriculum.

At the same time, Everett still has bouts of depression. But, Delva said: "I'll tell him, 'You're talking now. You can move your arm. You can walk with help. You are getting better. There's no reason to be depressed. This is your new journey. You're going to have a different, but better, life.'"

Everett lifted his left hand in a fist and quietly said: "Yea!"

Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.

TO learn more
If you are interested in learning more about Everett Zamarron-Smith and helping him get a new wheelchair, go to http://delzamblog.blogspot.com.
For details about brain injury, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury.