The mother stands vigil outside her son's hospital room. He is in a coma, prognosis grim.
Tubes snake out of John Bloomfield's mouth and nose. Monitors beep and hum above him. Family and friends stop by room 364-A at Mercy Hospital in endless streams of support.
They come to pray, to hold Bloomfield's hand, to touch his face, to whisper to him. They miss him. They want him back.
The coach in the hallway consoles the mother. They share stories about Bloomfield. The young man, the son, the brother, the Sacramento State defensive end known for his energy and shock of Tongan hair jetting out the back of his helmet like a vapor trail. The coach, Marshall Sperbeck, marvels at the journey the 6-foot-1, 245-pound senior made just to get into college. The mother, Stella, speaks about her son's gentle spirit and dreams of becoming a preacher, how similar they are from personality to hair.
Sperbeck sighs. His eyes are red from lack of sleep and swelling emotions. Today, Sac State is in Pocatello, Idaho, to play Idaho State in a Big Sky Conference game. Sperbeck understands his team will remain in room 364-A in spirit. A radio broadcasting today's game will be by Bloomfield's side.
"So hard on all our guys and on John's family," Sperbeck offered softly Friday.
Bloomfield entered Mercy on Sept. 19 to treat a collapsed lung. He experienced discomfort following Sac State's season opener on Aug. 30 at New Mexico State. Stella said the 4,000-foot altitude in Las Cruces, N.M., affected her son's breathing. One surgery last week became two, then three.
There were complications, including internal bleeding, and then he lapsed into a coma, Stella said.
"It's hard to see John like this because we're used to him being so active, so happy," Stella says.
She rattles off tales of her son, masking her grief with giggles. Soon, she explains, the family will have to make an unthinkable decision.
"As a mother, you can't do this alone," Stella says. "The support, the love here, it keeps me going. But we have to decide this weekend when to take John off life support. There's nothing more we can do. He'll be in God's hands, but it's such a hard decision. Something a mother should never have to do for a son."
Stella pauses, then adds: "I'm so happy for the man my son became. It wasn't easy for him growing up."
After a Sierra College football practice two years ago, Bloomfield said he was delighted to attend college, the first in his family to do so. Bloomfield grew up poor in East Palo Alto, where he said "there was trouble on every corner waiting to take you in." He spoke about an older brother who committed "the worst kind" of crimes and is serving a life sentence in prison.
"I've been a role model to my younger siblings: Do good things, the right thing, and go to school," he said.
Bloomfield moved to Oregon when he was 15 to live with an uncle, a pastor. A fresh start. That family moved to Sacramento in 2008 and merged with Bloomfield's parents. They sought out a Tongan base and found Grant High School in Del Paso Heights. Bloomfield played linebacker on Grant's 2008 state championship team. He treasures that ring, Stella says, and will be buried with it.
Bloomfield wound up at Sierra and promised his parents he would graduate with multiple four-year degrees. He took a bus at 6 each summer morning from south Sacramento to Sac State for an early start on study hall and was on track to graduate in ethnic studies.
"We recruited him out of Sierra knowing he was an academic risk, but getting to know him, what kind of young man he was, he was worth it," Sperbeck explains. "He's unlike any kid I've ever coached. The drive, commitment, unselfishness, how he works with others, and he's a captain and a role model to all our guys."
On Thursday, 32 Sac State players visited room 364-A. Stella said no one was surprised to see Bloomfield in his favorite green Hornets football T-shirt, the same one he wore the day Sac State beat Colorado in Boulder on Sept. 8. Bloomfield didn't make the trip because he was healing from his lung issues, but he danced around his couch to celebrate the triumph.
Late that evening, Bloomfield greeted the Hornets upon their return to campus. He stood on top of a pickup, waving a Sac State flag, shouting, the horn honking, the hazard lights on.
The mother hears this and looks upward. She runs her hands across her face. She nods and watches Sperbeck hold her son's hand. Sperbeck tells his defensive end that it's time to go to practice. Sperbeck and Stella embrace for a long moment. Both are crying.
Stella has one final wish.
"Please come back for just a moment, John, wake up and say one last thing before you go, please," she said. She knows the message would be mutual. Goodbye.