Brandon and his father, Tony, with Downey High School staff in 2008

Location: Los Gatos, California
Date: March 1, 1987


Shortly after midnight on March 1, 1987, 17-year-old Brandon Silveria got behind the wheel of his car and embarked on a drive that would forever change his life. Brandon and three crew teammates from Los Gatos, California, were returning home from a friend's house where they had been partying and where alcohol had flowed freely. Brandon was intoxicated as he drove, and so were his friends, all of whom nodded off to sleep. But they were soon jolted awake when Brandon dozed off and sideswiped a guard rail. One by one, Brandon dropped his friends off at their houses, then headed home himself. 

Brandon fought to stay awake as he traveled the highway at fifty miles per hour but one mile from his house, he fell asleep again. His car veered into the median and crashed into a tree, causing Brandon to hit his head on the windshield even though he was wearing a seat belt. The car then rebounded onto the highway, where an approaching driver, unable to see Brandon's disabled car now that it was without taillights, crashed into it; Brandon's head then hit the windshield again.

A nearby resident heard the crash and called 911. Rescue units from the Santa Clara County Fire Department responded to the scene. When EMT Joe Viramontez saw the wreck, he figured he might have a fatality on his hands. He found Brandon unconscious and assumed he had a head injury due to the spiderweb cracks fanning the windshield. Brandon's blood pressure readings confirmed massive brain swelling. Within seven minutes, advanced life support arrived. Paramedics quickly loaded the critically injured Brandon into the ambulance and transported to San Jose Medical Center.

Brandon's friend Jay Peard was driving to his girlfriend's house shortly after Brandon dropped him off that night when he happened to pass the accident. He recognized the personalized license plate on the demolished car. Horrified, Jay pulled over and spoke to Deputy Bruce Rak of the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department. Deputy Rak asked Jay if Brandon had been drinking, then asked him to notify Brandon's parents about the accident. "It was the hardest call of my life, " recalls Jay. "I was feeling very guilty that I hadn't stopped him from driving home."

Brandon's parents, Tony and Shirley, were in bed when they received what Tony describes as "the midnight call you always dread when your kids are away," and they drove to the accident scene. From the looks of things, they wondered if Brandon was still alive.

After Brandon was admitted to San Jose Medical Center, a CAT scan revealed severe head trauma. Trauma unit director Dr. Jim Hinsdale did not hold out much hope to Tony and Shirley that, in the event Brandon did survive, he'd lead a normal life. Brandon underwent surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, then he was moved to intensive care in a coma. His friends and family visited every day to talk to him and pray for him, but Brandon showed little improvement. He was able to open his eyes, but he remained motionless and could not speak.

After two and a half months, Brandon was transferred to The Greenery Rehabilitation Center, where an enthusiastic team of therapists, including Dr. Dennis Gallegos, worked hard to retrain him in virtually everything, from the simplest of tasks, such as swallowing, to the more difficult ones of walking and talking. After two years, Brandon was finally able to get home, still brain injured but dramatically improved. "Brandon is courageous, truly a hero," says Gallegos. "He struggled and fought to regain control over his life. He's got a lot of guts."

Today, Brandon is attending a community college and works part-time at an amusement park food stand. He also lectures local high school students about the dangers of drinking and driving. "I had the world at my fingertips," he tells students. "Then in one second, it changed forever because of some stupid choice I made. You have to take responsibility for the choices you make."

Tony and Shirley are encouraged by Brandon's progress but hope that someday he will be totally self-sufficient. "Brandon's really overcome so many things," says Shirley. "And I'm so grateful every day he's still with us."