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Find a Physician at Tanner Medical Center
By Ron Daniel

Times-Georgian Sports Editor

The place where Trevor Ramos nearly died on a December night last year is just up the road from where the kicker on the West Georgia football team grew up in Lawrenceville.

Speed limit signs read 40 mph, but police estimate the car in which Ramos was riding that Sunday night was going at least 80 mph when it crashed into two trees, breaking one in half and leaving the car in flames.

Ramos' memory of the night is sketchy. He was hanging out with five of his friends at Digger's Sports Grill, watching a football game, Denver vs. Indianapolis. An old acquaintance, who Ramos now struggles to call by his first name, had run into the group.

Benny, the acquaintance, invited Ramos and his friends back to his house. The last thing Ramos even vaguely remembers about the night is leaving the restaurant. Friends tell Ramos they went to Benny's house first. After hanging out for 20 or 30 minutes, they decided to head to another friend's place. Benny was driving alone. Friends tell Ramos he volunteered to ride with Benny.

"It was pretty stupid," Ramos says now. "He was intoxicated."

Ramos was 8 when he first met Benny playing youth soccer in Gwinnett County, but they hadn't stayed in close touch over the years. Benny was part of a tougher crowd than the group Ramos hung out with.

Cliff Ramos, Trevor's dad, has coached high school wrestling for 29 years, and he shared his love of the sport with his son. Wrestling was one of four sports Trevor Ramos played at Collins Hill High School. Ramos picked up football early in his high school career.

During his freshman year, while attending a varsity game, he won a raffle giving him a chance to kick a 30-yard field goal and win $100. He missed the field goal, something that still bothers him, but that failure inspired him to go out for football the following spring. He made the team and was Collins Hill's kicker for the next three years.

Benny, meanwhile, was more of a troublemaker. He was already on probation for stealing cars the night of the accident that nearly killed Ramos.

An off-duty Atlanta fire chief was driving home when he saw the wrecked BMW on the side of the road around 10:30. Benny, who wasn't severely injured, allegedly had gotten out of the car and started running away. Ramos was in the passenger seat, unconscious, barely breathing. The car was on fire. The fire chief and his son pulled Ramos out the back windshield five minutes before flames engulfed the BMW. Ramos was so critical that a policeman friend of Cliff Ramos who only works accidents with fatalities was called to the scene.

What was going through Benny's mind that night remains a mystery. "He pretty much left Trevor there to burn to death," Cliff Ramos said.

Trevor was in a coma in the intensive care unit of the hospital. He needed a respirator to help him breath.

Bleeding on his brain was the doctor's biggest concern. Cliff Ramos later learned from the neurosurgeons that bleeding on the brain kills brain cells, making recovery more unlikely.

Cliff Ramos was in Chapel Hill, N.C., with his wrestling team when he got word of his son's accident. His older son Taylor, one of the first to get to the hospital, was being told Trevor might not make it through the night. Several of Ramos' friends who came to the hospital were told the same thing. "I was at the hospital almost every day, talking to his parents and stuff," said West Georgia punter Jeff Carpenter, one of Ramos' closest friends. "I clocked in a lot of quality time at the hospital, a place I do not like to be. I was a little shook up for a couple of days."

Doctors often say that the first 24 hours are the most crucial for an accident victim. It was at about the 17-hour mark that things started to look a little less grim for the Ramos family.

At that point, Trevor was breathing well enough for doctors to remove the respirator. Still, he remained in a coma for five more days and was in a partial coma, or "fog," as Cliff Ramos remembers, for another week and a half.

His first few days of consciousness were spent trying to relearn basic motor skills like holding a fork. His family was there to help him, feeding him and bathing him. Months of therapy and rehabilitation have helped him get back to near his old self.

Reflecting on his life now, Ramos said being an active person played a big part in his recovery. "That was a lot to my recovery, just being so strong-willed, being tough," he said.

The brain injuries haven't completely healed. He has patches of numbness on his right side, along his face, in his arms and in his leg. In February, early on in the recovery process, putting all his weight on his right leg would cause him to lose his balance. Now, the numbness isn't something he notices unless he thinks about it.

Talking is another thing that was affected by the brain injuries. Cliff Ramos said most people wouldn't notice the little bit of difference in Trevor's speech, but it is something family members still pick up on. "If I talk to him on the phone for 10 minutes, he starts getting a little slow, a little tired," Cliff Ramos said. "He gets tired very easily and sometimes his speech isn't quite what it used to be. If you don't know him, you couldn't tell the difference, but we can."

Trevor Ramos' outlook on life has changed drastically since the accident. Being bedridden for the first three months after the accident gave him a lot of time to reflect on what is really important in life.

"I take things so much slower now," he said. "I look at things a lot different. Almost everything that's come from the accident has been for the best. That's why, I mean, everything happens for a reason. I'm living proof of it. I'm not glad that it happened, but it's given me a chance to look at my life."

Benny will go to trial in a few months, facing several charges including violation of parole, driving under the influence of alcohol and leaving the scene of an accident. Ramos won't testify at the trial, saying he doesn't want to see Benny. The Gwinnett County prosecutor working the case has agreed to keep Ramos posted on the outcome.

"I want to see him get punished," Ramos said. "I do want him to serve some time. I think it would be good for him."

Cliff Ramos now uses his son's accident to deter students in his health and physical education classes at Collins Hill from driving drunk or getting in the car with someone who is. He even shows his classes videotape of Trevor in the hospital and at home as an example of what happens if you get in the car with a drunk driver.

Trevor, who hopes to follow in his dad's footsteps teaching and coaching wrestling, said he doesn't mind. "It was a mistake I made and I learned from," he said. "You live and you learn."

Ramos started kicking footballs again this summer, but trying to regain his post as the Braves' kicker never crossed his mind. If anything, he figured he might sit out the season with a medical redshirt and try to play next year.

But by the end of July, Ramos, who is left-footed, was hitting the ball pretty good and decided to talk to West Georgia coach Mike Ledford about returning this season.

Ledford, who stayed in contact with Ramos' mom Kathy often after the accident, still hadn't found a replacement kicker when camp began in August. Hearing from Ramos was a welcomed breath of fresh air.

West Georgia's season opener last Saturday was an emotional day for the Ramos family and everyone who knew of all Trevor had gone through since last December.

Ramos was the Braves' starting kicker in the game with Carson-Newman at Rome's Barron Stadium. In the first quarter, after West Georgia's second offensive drive stalled at the Eagle 12-yard line, Ramos was called in to try a field goal from 30 yards.

Cliff Ramos got choked up when his son ran onto the field. Carpenter, Trevor's close friend, held the ball. Ramos approached and punched the ball with his left foot and the two watched it split the uprights.

Ramos shed a tear as he ran back to the sideline, reflecting on all he's come back from.

"I get emotional just thinking about it," he said. "After the last eight months, everything I've been through, I was so happy. I couldn't believe it. I prayed to God on the sideline. I told my dad, the rest of the year, it's just money now. I've come out here and I've kicked a college field goal after what I've been through. Everything's money now."