Is this really happening?
When the car struck, knocking him off his bike, Carlos Prieto was overcome not by pain or fear, but disbelief. “Am I in a nightmare?” the 15-year-old wondered, as the driver dragged him for four blocks, then fled the scene.
Pain would come later, as the result of 30 broken bones, severe internal bleeding, a detached left ear, and such significant skin loss that doctors at UCSF Children’s Hospital Oakland treated Carlos as a burn victim. During his three-month hospital stay, Carlos endured more than 10 surgeries, excruciating daily wound care, and over 100 grueling therapy sessions.
But fear never showed up.
“His attitude was unmatched, even through the hardest moments,” says Chau Tai, MD, Carlos’ surgeon and program director of plastic and reconstructive surgery. “This kid is made of love.”
Carlos and his family credit the hospital’s staff for helping him stay positive.
“He trusted them,” says his mother, Arline. “And so did I. I had a lot of peace at Children’s because the doctors and nurses are such knowledgeable and caring people.”
One instance stands out in her mind: A surgery to rebuild Carlos’ knee, which was expected to take 8 hours, ended up taking almost 17 when surgeons faced complications. Carlos emerged from the operating room at 3 a.m.
“Nobody would have blamed the team if they said, ‘We’ve done all we can do,’ and gave up,” Arline says through tears. “But they kept going. My son still has his leg because of that.”
Despite the hardships, Carlos has happy memories of the hospital: bonding over Legos with younger patients, partying at the hospital prom, and keeping up with his studies.
“One of my favorite nurses told me, ‘Your brain is working, your right hand is working, let’s get the teacher in here,” Carlos recalls. A hospital teacher visited him every day, and he completed his sophomore year on schedule. In addition to daily physical and occupational therapy sessions, he also met with a psychologist three times a week to help process the emotional impact.
Arline is optimistic about her son’s future. “He’s handled something so traumatic, and this is going to make him a lot stronger,” she says. “Whatever comes his way, he’ll be ready for it.”
Carlos is grateful and proud that he’s now riding his bike again, and he’s even able to find something positive in his experience.
“I learned for every one bad person, there are thousands more good people,” Carlos says. “I think it’s a gift to find that out.”
Video includes footage provided by KTVU.