Local student survives severe brain injury, celebrates anniversary by promoting injury awareness

CLEVELAND - Nick Ventura loves the outdoors and sports. Especially winter sports. But he never expected his love for them would leave him fighting for his life.

Last February, Nick took a trip with his friends and their parents to Holimont Ski Resort in New York for a weekend of fun and snowboarding. It wasn't long after they got there, Nick and his friends took to the slopes. And it wasn't long after that Nick got hurt.

Nick says, "I took my board to a snowboard shop got it tuned up. I was all ready to go and then it happened."

An avid snowboarder, Nick was on what was considered an "easy run" for him. But when his friends didn't see him after getting to the bottom, they began to worry and search for him. The ski patrol found him unconscious nearby laying next to trees. 

Because Nick doesn't remember anything before or during the accident, and no one saw what happened, investigators never determined exactly what happened.

It was a snowy and windy February day, which made it hard for the helicopter to land. So Nick was instead rushed by ambulance to a hospital in Buffalo. Even with full snowboarding gear, including a helmet, Nick suffered a fractured skull and significant brain damage.

His parents were shopping in Cleveland when they got the call Nick was hurt. They rushed to Buffalo that Feb. 19, 2011.

"The first thing they told us was the likelihood of him surviving the night was slim. It was unreal. He looked perfect", his mom Patty said.

Nick fought through the night on life support, and spent five weeks at that Buffalo hospital. He was there getting rehabilitation until March 28, 2011. His dad, Brian, and Patty, never gave up hope.

They're both coaches and they know how to rehab their students. They also know how to motivate as a part of their career. So they used their skills on their son and they worked.

When Nick was released from Buffalo, he came back to the Cleveland Clinic's Hospital for Rehabilitation in Shaker Heights where he continued his recovery.

Nick was learning to walk, talk, eat, do everyday things and school work. That was all on the list of numerous things Nick had to do to be able to go home and live as normal of a life as possible.

But Patty realized even though they worked around the clock with Nick, they didn't feel like they were doing enough.

Patty, a cheerleading coach, got some help from local fitness trainer Marty Velasco. Marty owns Fitness Edge in Lakewood and worked with her girls for their competitions. For weeks, Marty worked with Nick on top of the rehab he was getting at the Cleveland Clinic.

Marty said meeting Nick has been one of the most rewarding times of his life. "It was all Nick, he had an unbelievable will and desire. He wasn't going to quit. He just inspired the hell out of me and everybody else that he's touched. He doesn't even know it, but he inspired alot of people."

Seeing Nick, a healthy teen, get so severely hurt and nearly lose his life, then get up and fight, made Marty himself realize there is no excuse when it comes to living the best life you can. And there's no excuse to not push yourself as much as you can to get what you want. For Marty, Nick gave him a lesson in life.

It took 11 weeks of solid hard work to get Nick walking, talking and eating again on his own. A year later, he's still in therapy. He's still working every day to talk properly and he's still pushing himself to live his life as self-sufficient as he can.

Doctors weren't sure Nick would be able to get back to school for the 2011-2012 school year. Not only did Nick push himself to be as self-sufficient as he could be, he was at school the first day with the rest of his friends at Lakewood Catholic Academy. 

Nick is now 14 and in the 8th grade, is student council president and getting all A's and B's. But his fight isn't over. There's no long term prognosis, but that's not what really worries Nick. He's determined to fight for himself.

But he feels his real fight now is to make sure every athlete that needs a helmet wears one. It saved his life and he's now determined to save more lives by raising awareness about brain injury and helmet safety.

So, the Ventura Family started 11 Foundation. It helps support families with brain injuries and assist with the cost of rehabilitation expenses that might not be covered by insurance. The Foundation is currently seeking sponsors and fundraising events to support the cause.

For more information on 11 Foundation, follow this link: here .

If you'd like to get in touch with Marty Velasco from Fitness Edge in Lakewood, click here .

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