This is a story with a happy ending.
Or a happy new beginning since the end really isn’t in sight.
The story began on a Monday: Oct. 17, 2011 — a day Christian Wright and his family will never forget.
The day Christian's life changed forever.
It is a day so important to the 22-year old that he’s had the date tattooed onto his left arm, a constant reminder of a life-threatening illness that could have claimed his life.
As he approaches the seventh anniversary of that fateful day, Wright is healthy, graduated with his class at Santa Ynez High, earned an Associate’s Degree in the Administration of Justice from Santa Barbara City College, has a job, a girlfriend (Hannah Cantrell, a student and volleyball player at Cal Lutheran) and just completed his third season as the coach of the Santa Ynez High School junior varsity girls volleyball team.
“I’m having a great time. I learn from the girls. I learn something from them every day. I love coaching and I love coaching this team,” said Wright. “I don’t know if the girls know just how much I’ve gone through, how much I’ve had to overcome to get here.”
Wright survived a potentially fatal subarachnoid hemorrhage.
“It’s a spontaneous brain bleed,” said Wright. “My doctors still don’t know what caused it. They never found anything. A blood vessel in my brain broke, coagulated and closed itself up and I got better.”
In doctor-speak (from literature provided by the Mayo Clinic), a subarachnoid hemorrhage is usually caused by a bulging blood vessel that bursts in the brain (aneurysm). It may lead to permanent brain damage or death if not treated promptly.
The main symptom is a sudden, severe headache.
“I was at work,” said Christian’s father Tom Wright, who is the Santa Ynez High girls varsity volleyball coach. “Christian always called me when he got home from school. His voice was very weak. He said ‘Dad, I need you. My head hurts.’”
Tom Wright raced home and found his son in the bathroom soaked in sweat.
“I called 911. A fire truck arrived in two minutes and they took him right to Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital,” said Tom Wright. “They did a CAT scan and tapped into his skull right in the emergency room. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know how serious it was or how it would turn out.”
Christian Wright, the youngest of Tracy and Tom Wright’s four children, was placed in a medically induced coma for 26 days to give the swelling in his brain time to subside and time for his body to absorb the excess blood in his system while also beginning the healing process.
He was soon transferred to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
“Tracy never left him, she was by his side 24/7,” Tom said. “After four or five days, his nurse said he had a good night. She told us she didn’t know if he was going to make it but that things were finally starting to look better. That’s when it really hit us, just how close we came to losing him.”
"I honestly don't take one day for granted," said Tracy Wright. "Every minute I get to spend with Christian is a blessing."
Christian Wright was a tall, slightly built 15-year-old sophomore when the brain bleed occurred.
“I weighed 126 pounds when it happened. I was down to 97 pounds when I left the hospital,” he said.
“He had trouble speaking, trouble walking,” Tom Wright said of his son. “After weeks of intense rehab, he slowly got his strength, weight and stamina back. A little later, I started to let him practice a little.”
He was able to return to school part-time and was back at school full-time in April of 2012, before the end of his sophomore year. He graduated on time with the class of 2014, sporting an impressive 3.7 grade-point average.
But the doctors told Christian that his playing days were over.
“That ticked me off — no high school volleyball. I wanted to prove them wrong,” Christian said.
“He’s stubborn. I’ll give him that,” Tom said. “He ended up getting his doctors to release him and he ended up as our setter his senior year. He worked so hard, fought to graduate with his class and get back on the court. Then he went to Santa Barbara City College and had a red-shirt year on their volleyball team. His mother and I are so proud of him.”
"I am just so thankful," said Tracy Wright. "So thankful for his recovery. It's a miracle the way things turned out. It's the complete opposite of what it could have been. Christian tries so hard. I'm proud to watch the way he keeps growing."
In his second year at SBCC, Christian Wright got a job at GP Machining in Solvang. School and work didn’t leave much time for playing volleyball.
“So my dad said I should start coaching with him so that’s how I got into coaching,” Christian said.
Christian also got his degree (with a 3.4 GPA) earlier this year and is looking to begin a career in law enforcement.
“City College has an awesome Administration of Justice Department,” Christian said. “I gained so much knowledge. It was a huge benefit for me.”
Regardless of when that first law enforcement job comes through, Christian has no plans to leave the sidelines.
“I was able to be Dad’s assistant with the JV team for a couple of years,” he said. “When Chip Fenenga gave up the girls varsity coaching job (to concentrate on the boys team, from which he has just retired), Dad took over the varsity program. He said I should apply for the JV job. I did and I got it. I love it. This is my way of giving back — to my school and to all the people of our community who supported me through my health problems.”
“We had so much support from the community. They did car washes, bake sales, barbecues. That enabled Tracy to stay with him the whole time and gave him the chance to do the work he needed to do to get better,” Tom said. “Christian is such a great kid. If he wasn’t my son, he’d probably be my best friend. It’s been an unbelievable journey and, thankfully, the journey continues.”