KAPOLEI (KHON2) — A Big Island high school football player is lucky to be alive after suffering a traumatic brain injury during a game this month.

Kealakehe’s Reign Tabandera-Martinez remains on the slow road to recovery after having part of his skull removed. Those who know him best said he’s tough, maybe too tough for his own good.

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“I think that’s problem against Kapolei,” Reign said. “My head was ringing the whole time, but I just said that it was nothing and just to keep going and all of a sudden I’m in the hospital.”

During Kealakehe’s game against Kapolei on Aug. 6, Reign said he also threw up — signs of a brain injury after multiple helmet-to-helmet types of hits.

In the second half, little did Reign know that his brain was bleeding, and was about to herniate on the field.

“I felt like I was floating, I sat on the side and I couldn’t control myself and I started shaking and I started rocking back and forth.”

Reign Tabandera-Martinez, Kealakehe High School football player

Luckily Reign’s mom Tiffany is an ICU nurse at Hilo Medical Center. She knew how urgent the situation was, and said she alerted that it wasn’t heat-related as initially suspected.

“In my experience, I’ve never seen anybody survive or recover from anything like that so when I saw what was happening, I just didn’t have enough hope because of everything that I knew,” Tiffany said.

The experience of seeing their son on the field still haunts Reign’s parents.

That was the worst day of my life, I think to watch his eyes roll back. I’m not sure if he’ll wake up again. Because he means so much to me, he means everything to me.”

Kiko Martinez, Reign’s father

Reign was rushed to the hospital, emergency surgery removed a part of his skull as soon as possible. He’s now recovering and was released from the hospital on Aug. 11. As he did in practices and workouts to prepare for football, Reign is working on getting stronger.

“To even survive, it is amazing to have them pretty mobile on top of having his personality and everything is just miraculous,” Tiffany said. “We still have to come back in a few months and he has to get his skull put back. So we still have a bit to go.”

Reign won’t be able to play football again. It might be the toughest thing for him to get over.

“I would go through 100 surgeries to play football again,” Reign said.

But he’s still tough.

“This is Reign. He shows how resilient he is every single day. He’s asking me to go walk. He don’t like go walk,” Kiko said. “He’s dealing with the things — he’s dealing with the struggles. All I do is just respect him, love him, and help him.”

And he has great caretakers.

“I’m going to protect that brain it has nothing protecting it. As well as with traumatic brain injuries. You do have mood and behavior and sleep disturbances so we’re not only dealing with physical stuff,” Tiffany said.

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Both Tiffany and Kiko are taking multiple weeks and possibly months off of work to care for Reign. If you’d like to help their family, click here.