6/16/2013 6:00:00 AM A long walk back to normal for Kingman's Derek Curran KHS grad suffered serious brain injury in October football game
Derek Curran (78) and Matt Waite (25) bring down Flagstaff’s Marshall Brownfield during the Bulldogs’ 36-18 Homecoming loss on Sept. 28. Curran suffered a seizure on the sidelines during KHS’s season-ending win against Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain in October. Seven months later, Curran has recovered and is looking forward to attending Yavapai Community College at Prescott this fall. RODNEY HAAS/Miner
Derek Curran at graduation with his mother Jan, brother Blake and father Jim. Courtesy
KINGMAN - It's a typical Friday afternoon and the lunchtime rush is hitting the Subway restaurant located next to the Home Depot on Stockton Hill Road.
With lines forming at the counter, customers are greeted by Derek Curran. He's ready to make your sandwich.
Curran, 18, is your typical recent high school graduate - working a summer job, earning money and getting ready to head off to college in the fall. He grabs the bread, meat and other ingredients with no hesitation, as if he's been doing it all his life.
It's a far cry from where Curran was seven months ago.
Curran, who graduated last month from Kingman High School, was like any other high school football player. He took to the field on Friday nights with dreams of playing college football on Saturdays, but on a cold night in Prescott Valley on Oct. 26, his dream died and his life changed forever.
"I have no memory of it at all," Curran said. "I kind of - sort of remember a game before that, but it really wiped out a lot of my memory."
"It" is the seizure Curran suffered with 7:16 left in the third quarter of the Bulldogs' 24-17 win over Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain.
Curran was transported to nearby Yavapai Medical Center and later Curran was airlifted to Phoenix's St. Joseph's Medical Center.
There, doctors diagnosed him with a subdural hematoma and put him in a medically-induced coma and placed him on life support. His mom, Jan Curran said at the time that was the protocol for that type of injury.
Curran would spend the next month in the hospital. He went from a 220-pound defensive end/offensive tackle to 180 pounds. After being discharged from the intensive care unit, he went to the hospital's neurological rehab center and learned how to walk and keep his balance.
He was discharged on Nov. 27 and returned to Kingman, where he continued his rehab through outpatient therapy at Kingman Regional Medical Center. There, he worked on his balance as well as speech, cognitive therapy and memory strategies.
"You would tell him a story and he had to remember certain parts of the story," Jan said. "That was still stuff he was working with when he came back, but he was done with that by the end of December."
At the time of Curran's injury, he was on target to graduate from KHS in December. But the injury and the subsequent time out of the classroom delayed that until May. Because Curran was a good student and getting good grades, the school decided to give him the credits for his fall semester classes and have him return to school at the beginning of the spring semester.
"When life situations come up, it becomes, 'What can we do to help the student?'" said KHS principal Patrick Carey.
Carey pointed out that the school is currently working with the family of Jade Olson regarding the KHS student's missed class time as she battles leukemia.
"You have to look at what's best to help the kids," Carey said. "When situations like that come up, school is often the last thing on their minds."
It's something that Derek and Jan were grateful to the school for.
"I think they could've done it by the book and said, 'You have to make up those classes.' But they said this is a small town and we help people in town," Jan said. "I thought, 'Well, that's great and we will take every little bit of help we can get.' He didn't want this to prevent him from graduating and he would've had to drop out. I'm glad they suggested it and they were willing to work with that and they were very supportive when he came back."
When Curran returned to school in January, he was prone to coughing spells and the possibility of throwing up at any time because of the seizure medication he was taking. It was something that Jan met with school officials about and let them know that he may have to step out of class for a second.
"I didn't want him to be embarrassed in class if he has to run out and take care of whatever he needs to take care of, and they said, 'No problem. We understand,'" Jan said.
Curran didn't really have many problems and completed his required English class as well as other electives he was taking and was able to receive his diploma on the same field where he had so many great memories as a member of the Bulldogs football team.
"It was pretty amazing," Jan said of Derek's graduation. "It was one of those moments where I thought six months ago we weren't sure if we were going to see that day. It was amazing. It was very joyful. I'm so glad that we got to this point."
Curran plans on heading to Prescott to attend Yavapai Community College and knock out his general education requirements before transferring to a four-year university, where he plans on pursuing a degree in architecture.
But in the weeks following his seizure, Curran had difficulty accepting the reality that his dream of playing college football had died that October night in Prescott Valley. It was even more difficult when, in the weeks and months following the injury, Curran was still getting emails and calls from Division II schools wanting him to come play football for them.
"My mom had to send out a mass email to all the colleges that were trying to contact me," Curran said. '"He's had a brain injury and he's never going to be able to play football again. Every time you call him, it gets his hopes up and then just smashes them down.'"
Curran was able to start driving about a month ago and still takes medications to help prevent seizures. He had a doctor's appointment at the beginning of the month and will have one more in Phoenix in November, around the one-year anniversary of his injury.
The good news for him is there appears to be no long-term effects from his injury other than some short-term memory issues. However, it's something that Curran has adapted to by utilizing the calendar on his phone and jotting down notes to himself.
"It's just like my work schedule. The job I had this past summer, I went to work every day from 9-3 Monday through Friday, so it's not like I have to remember if I'm working this day or this day compared to what I am now," Curran said. "I'm only getting a couple of days a week right now, so I have to put them down in my calendar so I know when I'm working and what time I'm working. For the most part I'm still remembering it, but it's nice to have it there."
In the meantime, Curran will be making sandwiches at Subway, earning money and spending the summer with his girlfriend, Eleni Mack, before heading off to college.
Just like a typical 18-year-old high school graduate.
"I'm very lucky by the grace of God," Curran said. "It's just one of those things. Life chose a different path for me in not playing college football."
Posted: Sunday, June 16, 2013
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My son is good friends with Derek and graduated with him. It brought tears to my eyes to see Derek get that diploma. I hoped and prayed he and his parents would see that day happen, and it did. Congratulations, Derek! You're an amazing young man. We wish you the best!