Paralyzed teen's first 'words' to parents: 'I love you'

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A 16-year-old Pleasant Hill athlete who was paralyzed Jan. 10 after suffering a spinal cord injury during a wrestling match had a successful tracheotomy procedure on Thursday and mouthed his first word since the accident occurred.

Ryan Joseph came out of the operation and issued “a sophomoric word you might hear from any teenage boy.” The exact word is unknown. But it made everyone laugh, according to Jim Keck, Athletic Director at College Park High School.

And then Joseph looked at his parents, Kristin and Tom Joseph, and mouthed “I love you.”

"This is a big step forward because Ryan does not have tubes going through his mouth and is able to communicate by mouthing words instead of blinking," Keck said.

The removal of the tubes also reduces the risk of infection and is significantly less irritating on his throat, Keck said. 

Joseph rocked out to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” – which is the athlete’s traditional warm up tune –  as he prepared for the procedure. Tom Joseph reports that Ryan Joseph’s “ABC’s” are getting better, and though his breathing I still assisted, it has improved with the machine and trachea.

His blood pressure is good but doctors are still working to keep his body temperature regulated.

There’s been a large show of support from the local community and beyond, with fundraisers setup on the family’s behalf. Northgate High School in Walnut Creek is having a "purple out" on Friday in show of support, with purple and white being the the College Park school colors.

Wrestling teams as far away as Michigan have held events during matches and a representative from the Golden State Warriors stopped by the hospital with a championship ring and a signed Andre Iguodala basketball.

"The family is so thankful and humbled by the outpouring of support from all corners of the community," Keck said. 

The GoFundMe account for Joseph has raised more than $107,000 as of Thursday evening. 

Kristin and Tom Joseph met with the family of Jake Javier, the San Ramon Valley High School football player who was paralyzed from the neck down following a freak accident in 2016 while diving in a swimming pool on the last day of school. The families reportedly talked for several hours.

Photos and texts sent from friends have meant a lot to Joseph. Those interested to sending a message should use

The family is asking that donations be sent to:

The Joseph Family
C/O Mike Halket
PO Box 2122 
Dublin, CA 94568