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How to help

Visit the GoFundMe page started to help Bailey Foley and his family.

A high school football player from Humboldt County suffered an apparent brain injury at a Friday night game against Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, where the 17-year-old remained hospitalized Saturday in a medically induced coma.

Fortuna High School senior Bailey Foley was on the sidelines with about a minute left in the team’s season opener, a non-league event at Cardinal Newman’s field near the Old Redwood Highway campus, when he began complaining of cramps, then began having seizures, Fortuna varsity coach Mike Benbow said.

He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors discovered he had bleeding in his brain, an indication of a possible traumatic head injury.

“We don’t know for certain when it happened,” Benbow said. “On film, we can’t see anything. He wasn’t showing signs of anything until he came off to the side.”

Foley played most of the game on both sides of the ball as linebacker and running back in a contest the Humboldt County team lost 18 to 41. He’s known as a strong, motivated player and took hits and ran plays throughout the game, his coach said.

“This young man has a reputation for being a go-getter, a hard worker, someone who goes hard all the time,” Benbow said.

A teammate of Foley’s said he mentioned his head hurt moments before he began having seizures, Benbow said.

His parents, Tara Johnson and Sage Foley, were listening to the game on the radio in Fortuna, 200 miles north of Santa Rosa, when the announcer said Foley was injured. Another player and the coach called them to say he was being taken to the hospital, but at that time he appeared to be suffering from heat stroke, Johnson said. Benbow accompanied Foley in the ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

Johnson said they jumped into her nephew’s car in Fortuna and drove south through the night.

“We didn’t know what happened,” Johnson said. “The severity of the seizure wasn’t known until he got to the hospital.”

Doctors at Memorial Hospital have told Foley’s family they will keep him heavily medicated for several days to allow the brain swelling to recede, and they will know more about the extent of his injuries at that time. Doctors removed a portion of his skull to help alleviate swelling in his brain, a common effect of traumatic brain injuries.

“It could be a slow recovery — we’re hoping for the best,” Johnson said. “We really don’t know at this point, and we won’t until he wakes up.” A GoFundMe page was started Saturday to help Foley and his family.

Foley has played and loved football since he was 8 years old, and being able to stay on the team is his key motivator in school, his mother said. He is also a second basemen on the baseball team.

Both Benbow and Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin said they saw no obvious play or impact during the game that might have caused Foley’s medical distress or triggered a previous, potentially undiagnosed injury to his brain.

“We went back to the film and we didn’t see a traumatic” hit, Cronin said. “We watched fairly closely to the second.”

Foley’s injury comes amid increasing scrutiny of the risks to players of high-impact sports, with research revealing the prevalence of brain injuries and concussions among professional and youth athletes.

Benbow said he works with Humboldt State University’s North Coast Concussion Program to evaluate and train his players throughout the year, before injuries and after concerning signs, such as mention of a headache.

Benbow said he gathered his team, the Fortuna Huskies, for lunch Saturday at a player’s family home to update them on Foley’s status and encourage them to support one another. The team is determined to play Friday, a game scheduled against North Medford High School in southern Oregon.

“It’s a wait-and-see how his brain reacts,” Benbow said. “He has a struggle in front of him, he and his family. We’re just trying to be there for him.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem

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