San Jose soccer league rallies for paralyzed goalie

When 12-year-old Mariah Serratos called her mom from the nurse’s office at Hoover Middle School on March 22, she was feeling tingling and numbness in her leg.

“At first, I thought my leg was asleep,” Mariah said from her hospital bed at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

The next day, the pain and tingling was gone and the numbness had spread up her legs to her waist. Doctors said Mariah suffered a stroke in her spine. Spinal strokes account for just more than one percent of all strokes in adults, and even fewer in children.

“When Mariah first presented, that wasn’t even our initial thought,” said Dr. Thao Duong of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. “It was not in the first five diagnoses we were considering.

Doctors at Valley Medical and Lucile Packard Childrens hospitals concurred in their final diagnosis. Doctors told Mariah’s family, that their daughter — who danced folklorico and played soccer for nine years — would never walk again.

“I couldn’t believe it, I was like no, this is not true,” said Sylvia Serratos, Mariah’s mother. “How can a healthy child not be able to walk again or move, dance, or play soccer.”

The Saturday after her stroke, Mariah missed her first soccer game in years. When her teammates, their families and the Central Valley Youth Soccer League found out why, they immediately started raising money to ease Mariah’s transition.

“It hit everybody because everybody has a son or daughter the same age and everyone thought how it would change their lives to go through what they’re going through right now,” said Dave Bibo, the father of one of Mariah’s teammates.

To date, the league’s raised more than $20,000 through t-shirt sponsorships and sales bearing the slogan “Stand for Mariah.”

They rallied Fish Construction to donate the labor to make the bathroom wheelchair-accessible and to build a wheelchair ramp at the family home, and in turn, the construction company got a local lumber company to donate some of the materials. Now, some of the league parents are shopping local auto dealerships to find a vehicle suitable for the family’s new needs.

“This is a long-term commitment for us, to make life easier for her and a little more fun,” Bibo said, adding that the league upped the fundraising goal from $25,000 to $40,000.

The league reached out to the San Jose Earthquakes to host a fundraising night in Mariah’s honor. Mariah herself, lit up as she talked about her love of the San Francisco 49ers and her favorite player, Colin Kaepernick.

“Maybe he could visit,” she said.

Mariah’s mother cried as she told NBC Bay Area that theirs is a proud family that never wanted to ask for help. That the league and Mariah’s team stepped out without even asking, she said, made it even more meaningful.

“I don’t know how to even thank them because they’ve been supportive, being here, the girls are here every other day, her coaches call, they just have not left us and I think that’s helped Mariah a lot,” Sylvia Serratos said.

Mariah is looking forward to going home on Thursday, to sleeping in her own bed, to being with her parents and younger brother and sister again. And, to having chorizo and eggs that she’ll ask both her grandmothers to cook for her. Her father’s mother is flying in from Dallas, on a ticket donated by Lucille Packard Childrens Hospital.

Then, Mariah says, it’ll be back to the gym and exercise. Though her doctors say she won’t walk again, Mariah has a different opinion.

She says, “I’ll walk again.”

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