North Bay high school soccer star partially paralyzed in surfing accident

Photo of North Bay teen Marcos Ornellas was injured in a surfing accident off Bolinas, Calif. on June 29, 2023, that left him partially paralyzed. 

Community support has been pouring in for a 15-year-old star soccer player from the North Bay, who suffered a broken neck and injured his spinal cord in a surfing accident that left him partially paralyzed. 

On June 29, Marcos Ornellas was surfing with friends off Bolinas when he dove off his board to try and avoid running into a group of kids in the water, who were part of a surfing camp. The teen miscalculated the depth of the water and went head first, hitting the shallow bottom.

The impact led to his head buckling, and he snapped a vertebra.

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Marcos was floating face down in the water when his friends noticed he wasn't moving and rushed over to him.

"The amazing thing that has really stood out is the awareness that Marcos had," shared family friend Stacy Denney. "The fact that he used his surf training. They all talk about how not to panic."

Denney’s son, Ryan, was among a group of two other teens with Marcos surfing together that day. They're being credited for their quick thinking and prompt action and for helping to save their friend's life.

"When my son came back to him and lifted his face out of the water, his face was blue, and he said, ‘I can't move,’" Stacy Denney told KTVU. 

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The friends pulled Marcos out of the water and used a surfboard to bring him to shore. Along with staff of the kids surf camp who were at the beach, they called 911, and Marcos was airlifted to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland.

He underwent eight hours of surgery to repair a broken neck and a spinal cord injury, according to a GoFundMe set up for the teen and his family.

The surgery was successful in helping the teen get back some movement. 

"A few days after his surgery he started regaining some sensory function," his family said in an update on GoFundMe, adding that several weeks after that, "he has been gaining meaningful motor function, allowing him to move many parts of his body."

Marcos been moved to the Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center in Vallejo, where he's been working with therapists and other specialists. The family said he has managed to sit upright in a wheelchair and has even taken steps using a walker, though he's needed assistance. 

"Despite the long road ahead, the progress has been encouraging in such a short period of time," the family shared on GoFundMe, adding, "He is progressing every day and keeping his spirits high."

The resolve and positive attitude that he's shown toward his recovery were not surprising to Marcos' family and friends.  

For years, they've witnessed that same drive and focused mindset on the soccer field. 

Marcos, who turns 16 this month, has been on the varsity soccer team at Redwood High School in Larkspur and a member of the highly competitive Marin Football Club

Prior to the accident, he had his eyes set on playing soccer in college. 

Now, his focus and energy were centered on his rehabilitation and recovery.

"He may have to take a year off school while he works to get his mobility back as much as possible," the GoFundMe shared. "If you know Marcos, you know he has an amazingly positive outlook and doesn't give up, and he is fully engaged in this fight."

Friends and the greater community have been engaged in helping him and his family through that fight in any way they can.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the GoFundMe had raised more than $110,000. 

On Monday, World Wrapps in Corte Madera, where Marcos' friend Ryan works, held a fundraiser for the injured teen, donating a portion of sales to go toward his recovery.  

Marcos’ friends have also been there by his side, visiting him at the rehabilitation center and offering their support. Ryan's mother, Stacy Denney, said it’s been truly inspiring to watch the maturity that these boys have shown in the face of this tragedy.

The road ahead was long, friends of the family said, especially as Marcos' parents, Chris Ornellas and Elena Vives, faced mounting medical bills and the real possibility of having to move out of their two-story condominium to find new housing that accommodates wheelchair access. 

But the widespread support the family has received has not gone unnoticed, and Ornellas and Vives said their child was drawing strength from his community. 

"Your support will help give Marcos the best chance for recovery. Marcos can definitely feel there is an army behind him, and it gives him so much hope and strength," the teen’s parents shared. "Thank you all again from the bottom of our hearts!"

You can find the GoFundMe for Marcos Ornellas and his family here.

Support was pouring in for Marcos Ornellas, 15, who was injured in a serious accident while surfing off Bolinas, Calif. on June 29, 2023.  (GoFundMe/Support Marcos Ornellas & His Family)