Dive into pool leaves college-bound soccer player paralyzed

Tony Nguyen, 18, graduated from Pleasant Grove High School six days before his accident that left him paralyzed.
Tony Nguyen, 18, graduated from Pleasant Grove High School six days before his accident that left him paralyzed. Photo provided by Lynda Yap.

Only six days after his graduation from Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove, 18-year-old Tony Nguyen went from being a varsity soccer player bound for Cosumnes River College to a quadriplegic fighting to regain mobility.

Nguyen went to a friend’s house to swim after a hike in Auburn with some friends and teammates.

About 10 other kids had been thinking of games to play and didn’t notice when Tony dived into the pool.

“All of a sudden they were like, ‘Where is Tony at?’ And then they turned around, and he was, like, floating underneath the water,” Nguyen’s sister Lynda Yap said. “They thought he was playing for a little bit. They realized after a few minutes that he wasn’t moving.”

Nguyen was pulled from the water and had scratches on his face, likely from hitting the bottom of the pool. His club soccer coach Jon Restani performed CPR on him while his son Joseph called 911.

Nguyen was taken to Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center, where he was rushed into emergency surgery. He’d broken his neck and damaged his spinal cord.

He spent two weeks breathing through a ventilator, eating through a feeding tube and wondering if he would ever be able to walk again.

It was devastating for their family, Yap said, noting that Nguyen had dreamed of studying criminal justice at CRC and becoming a police officer so he could save lives.

On June 16, two weeks after his accident, Nguyen was transferred to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, a hospital known for spinal cord injury rehabilitation. His family hopes he will slowly recover some mobility.

He has regained some control of his left arm and is slowly learning to talk again.

“The doctor said based on his age there is a 10 to 20 percent chance that he might regain some sort of movement or be able to walk,” Yap said. “If he does learn how to walk again it will probably be a few steps inside a house on a flat surface.”

When Nguyen played for FC Elk Grove 98, the team rose to be rated as high as 10th in the country, according to Restani.

Nguyen maintains his positive attitude despite his circumstances, his coach said.

“He has a very magnetic personality, very positive, and always seems to be well-respected, not just from his friends, but from teachers and staff at the school,” Restani said. “He is highly humble and very appreciative, and now has a great attitude as he tries to rehab as best as he can.”

Restani said that all of his teammates and coaches have visited Nguyen since he has been in the hospital. The Restanis visited Nguyen often while he was in the Sacramento hospital, and went down to Santa Clara three times to visit him.

In addition, Nguyen’s close family friends Kristen and Juan Hernandez started a GoFundMe.com campaign to help raise money for his medical expenses. Information on how to donate can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/TonyNguyen.

Yap said that even though Nguyen is still learning how to speak again, he still plans to eventually attend CRC, study criminal justice and find ways to help other children with spinal cord injuries like his own.

“My No. 1 fear was that he was going to go into a depression, but he’s already speaking about his experience after he gets better,” Yap said. “He wants to do motivational speaking to other kids that have suffered spinal injuries.”

Yap said it is hoped Nguyen will be allowed to return home in about three months and continue his rehabilitation in Elk Grove as he attends school.

Marjorie Kirk: 916-321-1012, @marjorie_kirk