Week 2 Hog Blog: The Madison Miracle
“We’re hoping he’s just going to walk again.”
That’s what the hushed voice on the other end of the phone said when inquires were made about the condition of former Madison High linebacker Chris Fatilua. It was your run-of-the-mill July night at the station when the KUSI Sports Department started getting phone calls about Fatilua suffering a spinal cord injury. How was that possible? He hadn’t even graduated high school yet? How could he suffer such a severe injury before Cal even started practice?
As it turns out, it wasn’t a football injury at all. Chris was swimming with friends when an ill-advised dive into the shallow end of the pool left him without feeling in his arms and legs. “I never lost consciousness,” he told KUSI. “But I couldn’t move either.”
The quick actions of his compadres kept Chris from drowning. But that was just the first step in what will be a long recovery. Fatilua was initially taken to Mercy Hospital here in San Diego hospital the decision was made to move him to Craig Hospital, a Denver-based facility that specializes in spinal cord injuries.
Insurance doesn’t normally cover the specialized flights required to transport Fatilua. Warhawk Nation needed to raise 25K and they needed to raise it fast. What’s a family to do? A Go Fund Me page was established, but in order to get Chris the open bed in Colorado, a hat was passed. Family members with room on their credit cards simply maxed them out.
“This is how we roll,” Sai Niu told a KUSI TV audience. Niu was Fatilua’s linebacker coach at Madison, and more importantly, is Chris’ Uncle. “It’s all about family, when one of us hurts we all hurt.” And while family and friends quickly showed their support for Chris, the University of California wasn’t far behind. “I told Coach (Wilcox) he could be straight with me,” Fatilua told me. “I wanted to know if he was going to pull my scholarship.” Not a chance. The Bears are not only going to honor the scholarship, they even orchestrated a “spirit lifting” phone conversation between Chris and former Cal quarterback Jared Goff. “It shows Chris made a really good college choice,” observed the PPR’s Burt Grossman.
Sixty days after we first reported Fatilua’s injury, Chris was back on the KUSI airwaves. Not strapped to a hospital gurney, but walking and talking on the PrePR set. Brace yourselves, Fatilua delivered this bit of breaking news: “I intend to play football again. I’m not sure of how long my recovery period will be, but if I continue to heal up the way I am, I plan to play again.” Fatilua took a breath before adding, “I have so many people to thank, and so many prayers to return. “
Fatilua’s saga highlights the very best of high school football; the power of family, community and prayer. Treatment of spinal cord injuries continues to improve by leaps and bounds, and Cal’s commitment to a young athlete they were just getting to know is certainly worthy a tip of the cap.
But in the end, Chris Fatilua’s character tops the marquee. A proud member of Warhawk Nation, Fatilua is displaying a warrior’s mentality that makes him impossible to stop both on the field and while facing one of life’s greatest obstacles. This young man is teaching a Masters course in how to deal with adversity. It’s a lesson we all need to learn from.
Paul W. Rudy