THE COLONY — Brian Bravo doesn’t let his immobility stand in the way of his smile.
The senior at The Colony High School is known for his infectious grin, his willingness to participate and his dedication to sports.
Now, as he approaches his final months of high school, eight years after a devastating car accident left him paralyzed and unable to speak, Bravo may have another reason to smile.
Basketball coach Cleve Ryan and other faculty and students at the school have launched a fundraising campaign to help Bravo’s father with his son’s day-to-day needs, including the purchase of a wheelchair-accessible van. Brian Bravo has been unable to move since the accident that also killed his mother, uncle and older sister, but sometimes his leg will start to kick if he gets excited.
“We would like to have enough funds to provide Brian with the ultimate graduation send-off, and the van would help,” Ryan said. “I just get a kick out of that big smile and leg moving. … He touches my heart.”
Fundamental life skills teacher Kristen Crenshaw, who works with Bravo at school, said she saw something in him that was different.
“I don’t think people really knew much until now, but Brian has the mentality of any 21-year-old,” Crenshaw said. “He understands, and while unable to do much for himself, his brain is functional and needs stimulation with peers.”
“I just felt we could be that lifeline for him,” Crenshaw said.
A fateful day
Brian Bravo was 13 years old and on the way home from a family vacation in Mexico in the summer of 2005 when the unexpected happened. The family’s sport utility vehicle began to have mechanical failures in the wee hours of the morning on their way home to Texas.
The driver lost control and the vehicle rolled multiple times. A trucker discovered the accident near Monterrey, Mexico, and called for help. Brian had been ejected from the vehicle and was critically injured. His mother, Maria Elena Castañeda, his uncle Genio Castañeda, and his sister, Cindy, were pronounced dead at the hospital. Bravo’s little brother, Nicki, suffered broken bones, and Cindy’s baby was found in a car seat with scrapes and bruises.
Brian’s father, Jose Bravo, had been unable to make the family trip because of work commitments, and he was looking forward to his family’s return.
That’s when he got a phone call.
“It was hours after it happened, but I found out with a phone call that morning and didn’t know what to do,” Jose Bravo said in a recent interview, as his two sons sat nearby. “I was upset and had to get to my family.”
When Jose Bravo finally arrived, he learned he had lost his wife, his daughter and his wife’s brother. He said he was glad his sons and grandson were alive, but learned that Brian had suffered a brain injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Brian had lost his ability to walk and talk.
“He was so bad, I wanted to take him back home but couldn’t,” Jose Bravo said.
The father’s will and determination finally brought Brian back to Texas, where he was admitted to Children’s Medical Center Dallas. The teen had many complications — some due to the treatment he received while in Mexico — and spent a full month in and out of surgery.
Once stable, Brian Bravo was transferred to Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas where he stayed for a couple of weeks before returning home to The Colony. He was then placed in a rehabilitation facility and spent several months there.
Back home in The Colony, where the Bravo family has now lived for more than 20 years, nobody knew what the family had been going through. Jose Bravo said he tried to knock on doors, but didn’t get any response.
Brian Bravo didn’t return to school after the accident — his father didn’t know programs were available for him.
“It was all very difficult … a very difficult time,” Jose Bravo said. “I just kept everything in for so long.”
Now, when Brian needs to be transported, his father scoops him up, puts him in the car, then takes apart the wheelchair and forces it into the trunk of the family’s old, beat-up Ford.
“When we saw what his dad had to physically do to get him somewhere, we wanted to help,” Ryan said. “Our ultimate goal is to raise enough funds to provide him with a wheelchair-accessible van because right now, they can’t even shut the trunk all the way. … It’s a lot for one man to do, and he is a small guy.”
On the road to recovery
Brian Bravo returned to school a few years ago after his father learned from a nurse that programs were available to his son.
Now 21, Bravo is able to communicate by blinking. His story is finally starting to come out as Ryan and Crenshaw have gotten involved in the family’s life.
Soccer coach Lee Weddall said he wanted to help because of Brian’s love for soccer. He has always had a passion for sports, particularly soccer and basketball.
Weddall, a Highland Village resident, has been sharing Brian Bravo’s story on social media to help spread the word.
“Soccer is his true love, but he used to play before the accident and he gets really emotional while there,” Crenshaw said. “Visiting there makes him cry every single time.”
As for basketball, Bravo is known around school as “Coach Brian.” Ryan said he lets him make some decisions for the team, including when the team might need to make an extra effort.
“He is really involved, the team loves him, and yeah, sometimes he does make the boys run,” Ryan said. “I wanted to share his story with my team. His hurdles are an inspiration. He has come so far.”
After a feeding tube accident brought an ambulance to the school earlier this school year, the teachers and students at the high school learned quickly of the day-to-day struggles of their fellow Cougar.
In an effort to help, double-sided bracelets with the words “Bravo4Brian” and “Cougar Nation” are being sold for $2 to $5. Bracelets are currently being sold only at the high school, but there are plans for the items to be available throughout the Lewisville school district.
“We will just have some made without ‘Cougar Nation’ written on them,” Ryan said. “The sales of the bracelets are minimal compared to what we are trying to do, but every little bit helps and it really does add up.”
The coach is also leading a donation drive, and a local church has set up an account to accept donations. All money raised goes directly to the Bravo family, and so far, the school has been able to remodel Nicki Bravo’s room and soon will remodel Brian’s room as well.
“We were also able to donate money for Christmas gifts and dinner,” Ryan said. “The whole community is beginning to get involved here, and it’s great. This family has been through a lot.”
Jose Bravo is more than appreciative of the assistance already provided. He said he thanks God there are so many good people out there.
“Nothing can take me back [in time to change things], but we can move forward,” he said.
With Brian Bravo’s graduation nearing, Crenshaw said she is now working on finding a day program he can attend because she doesn’t want him to be left at the house all day without much stimulation.
“He does require care, but he still is very much a young man who enjoys life. … He gets a smile that speaks volumes,” Crenshaw said. “It’s important to build those lasting friendships. He is just like [his peers], only a little quieter.”
Those friendships, the faculty members hope, will continue to prosper even after his time in school has ended.
Glancing down at his own blue-and-white “Bravo4Brian” bracelet, Ryan says it’s his daily reminder to not take anything for granted.
“Brian’s smile says it all,” he said. “He has such a huge impact on the student body here without even saying a word.”
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.
How to donate to “Bravo4Brian”
Phone: Call Cleve Ryan at469-948-2586.
Online: Calvary ChristianCenter has set up an account for Brian Bravo for online donations at www.iamccc.com. Click “give online” and addmemo “BRAVO4BRIAN.”
Mail: Send a check ormoney order to: Calvary Christian Center, Attn: Bravo4Brian, 5220 Blair OaksDrive, The Colony, TX 75056.