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A journey together
With devoted girlfriend by his side, Healdsburg High grad who was left a quadriplegic in a river diving accident begins building a new life

  • Brianna Angell and Honza Ripa talk with physical therapist Susan Wiegman about Honza's progress at the neurological rehabilitation clinic of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital last week. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

They were together on a sun-splashed Russian River beach the day Honza Ripa's life took a traumatic turn.

He dove into the green water and found he could not move. His neck was broken and he nearly drowned.

Brianna Angell was there as Healdsburg teens hauled Honza from the river, bringing their post-graduation idyll to a grim end and sending him by helicopter to the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital emergency room.

Throughout his long recovery and rehabilitation at hospitals in Santa Rosa and San Jose, Brianna, 17, stood by Honza and helped raise thousands of dollars for the 6-foot-3 former star golfer who was paralyzed from the neck down in the diving accident 10 months ago.

Honza, 18, a gregarious athlete now adjusting to life in a body that will barely do his bidding, still has Brianna to lean on, literally and figuratively.

The young couple, a lanky blond quadriplegic and a petite brunette, plan to move in together this summer in Santa Rosa and attend classes at Santa Rosa Junior College.

They are in love, they said, and intended to live together eventually. The decision was made about two months ago.

“We figured why not now?” said Honza, who turns 19 on Thursday.4-22

“I was getting older and not wanting to live with my parents anymore,” Brianna said.

They met at Healdsburg High in September 2008 and have been together ever since. Honza graduated in May; Brianna graduates June 4, three weeks after she turns 18.

Honza's mother, Katka Ripova, understands their motivation. “Everybody else wants to start their life,” she said.

Brianna's mother, Karan Angell of Healdsburg, said she's impressed with the relationship the two have forged through an extraordinary experience. “It's endearing and it's heartwarming,” Angell said. “They are the real deal. They've done a lot of growing up in a short time.”

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