A popular young surfer from California is in a coma after experiencing a horrific head injury while snowboarding—and his parents are holding on to hope that he makes a recovery.
As Brayden Belden snowboarded with his family during a trip to Mt. Bachelor in Oregon on February 20, the athletic 11-year-old with a love of extreme sports kept catching air off of large jumps. But as the family readied to wrap up the day, Brayden went off one last jump, which, according to his father, saw him go as high as 35 feet in the air.
“He kept going off these very, very large jumps and just getting more and more confident,” Brayden’s father, Matt Belden, 43, tells PEOPLE. “It was the last run of the day, and he pushed it. He actually landed, but he caught an edge and hit the back of his head… he went straight back, like whiplash style.”
Though Matt wasn’t in a position to see Brayden land, snowboarders who saw it from a lift called out to him to let him know something was wrong with his son. Matt then saw Brayden spread out in the snow suffering from injuries to his head.
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“He was lifeless and he was convulsing. Eyes in the back of the head, shallow breathing,” Matt recalls. “It slowed down too much, so I gave him CPR.”
Once ski patrol arrived, the fifth-grader was flown to St. Charles Hospital in Bend, where a pastor waited for Matt and his wife, Denise, to arrive. Matt says when he saw the priest, he told him it wasn’t time to bring the rosary beads out just yet—but the circumstances were dire, nonetheless.
“The doctor came in and was like, ‘I don’t know how to say this, but it just doesn’t look good. I’m giving him two hours to live,’ ” Matt recalls. “I went outside and sat on this bench and just yelled, screamed and cried until there was nothing left. I was yelling to the point nothing’s coming out. Part of me died right there.”
The medical team fought to stabilize Brayden, but there was hope that if he could live long enough, they could fly him to the ICU at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland, which was better equipped to treat the traumatic injuries to his head.
Brayden survived the flight, and two weeks after the accident, he remains on a ventilator in a medically-induced coma as the swelling in his head subsides. Doctors say the accident caused damage to the basal ganglia of Brayden’s brain, which primarily controls motor function.
Matt says he and Denise are waiting day by day to see if Brayden will be able to breathe on his own, but they’re unsure of what the future will hold.
“It is what it is, but he’s alive, right now. I don’t know if he’s going to be in a vegetative state or not, it’s too early to tell, so it’s a marathon,” he says. “I do think he hears and feels all the prayers and love and support that people have been giving.”
Brayden’s dream is to become a professional surfer after he learned how to surf with his father about three years ago, Matt says. Since then, Brayden has participated in competitions, like the Brook Street Classic and Spring Fling Classic—which he won—near their home in Laguna Beach, California.
A family friend recently set up a GoFundMe page to raise donations to help the Belden’s with their medical expenses. It has so far raised more than $166,000 of its $275,000 goal.
“The support from the GoFundMe is allowing us to deal with these medical bills that are just skyrocketing,” Matt says. “It allows us to focus what really matters: giving this kid the most love possible because nothing else matters. I am going nowhere, until he comes with me. One way or the other.”