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By Dave Ball | Photo by Dave Ball

It was a typical night in the Borin household.

Heather, the mom, was in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner with the dogs wagging around in search of scraps. Brian, the dad, had retreated to the basement to click on the Trailblazers game. C.J., the son and a standout junior on the Nelson boys basketball team, was holed up in his room tired while recovering from what everyone suspected to be a lingering cold.

Crash. Bang.

While everyone was busy trying to find out what created the commotion, C.J. opened his door and walked slowly toward the kitchen to refill his water bottle.

“He didn’t look quite right,” Heather said.

They filled the bottle in the kitchen. Heather walked her son back to his room, wrapped him in a blanket and had him sit in a chair. She had him take a few sips of water before she left the room.

This cold was going on two weeks. The family had him take a series of COVID tests, but each came back clear. It was a slow holiday break as a lethargic C.J. dealt with chills and fatigue.

“We thought he was fighting off a cold, but we were thinking it was weird that he hasn’t shaken this thing yet,” Brian said.

Heather returned to the kitchen, and Brian settled in to watch the game downstairs, expecting that C.J. would probably pop in at some point.

Crash. Bang. Boom.

This time, C.J. did not come out of his room.

The knocking sounds continued.

Heather rushed down the hallway, opened the door and found her son on the floor in the midst of a seizure.

She yelled for help. Brian rushed upstairs. The paramedics were called. C.J. was rolled into the back of an ambulance with his mom by his side. Brian followed in the family car.

“It was the scariest night of my life,” Heather said.

C.J. had come down with viral meningitis, but that diagnosis did not come for several days after a series of tests and a hospital transfer.

“Doctors were saying it was a random infection that somehow landed up near his brain where it would typically settle into your chest somewhere,” Brian said.

For now, C.J. remained unconscious in his hospital bed — not uncommon for someone who has endured a seizure.

“The doctors and nurses kept saying that he should be waking up soon, then there would be a shift change,” Heather said. “It was 12 hours, then 24 hours, and he just didn’t wake up. The level of worry just escalated.”

It had become a waiting game.

C.J. was in a coma.

Heather and Brian sat bedside praying for their son to stir awake.

“All I did was stare at my kid,” Brian said.

In the wee hours of the morning, long after all the late-night shows had signed off, C.J.’s eyes came open and he took a quick scan of his surroundings. It lasted about 10 seconds before he drifted off again. But it was enough to reassure his worried parents.

“When he woke up, and I could see that it was him, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy,” Brian said. “He seemed like himself right away.”

For C.J., the experience happened in a flash.

“One minute I’m in my room and the next I’m in a hospital bed,” C.J. said. “It was very weird for me. I remember seeing my parents standing by me, and the doctors in the room trying to explain what happened.”

He would spend five days under surveillance in the hospital, each day with a bit more awareness.

“One of the last days at the hospital, he asked for his phone — that’s one way I knew he was on his way back,” Heather said. “He wanted to reconnect with his grandparents and sister.”

He had another use for his phone, too.

Clackamas was playing in the Pacific Office Automation Holiday Classic, and he wanted to watch. His younger sister, Kenna, was at the game in person and streamed it over the phone.

“He tried to watch and would catch a minute or two, then drift off,” Heather said.

C.J. got more basketball news before he left the hospital. His doctor suggested that a return to the court was probably not in the cards this season.

It was like telling a fish not to swim.

“That was hard to hear. I was thinking, ‘I gotta play basketball’,” C.J. said.

Before he could concern himself with basketball, C.J. had to take the most basic steps in his recovery.

“When we first got home, he couldn’t sit up for 10 minutes without getting headaches,” Brian said. “You have to take the time the brain needs to heal — it’s not too different than recovering from a concussion.”

His teammates and friends drove by his house with a big poster and a new pair of shoes among other get-well gifts. His coaches offered encouragement to the family. Even parents that C.J. didn’t know well made a point to let him know they were thinking about and praying for him.

“This is a new school and a new community, but we felt surrounded by so many people,” Heather said.

C.J. needed to be free of symptoms for 48 hours before re-engaging with school.

“We started with one class, then every other day I’d add in another one,” he said. “There was some makeup work to get through, but all of my teachers were very understanding.”

The return to basketball was similar. At first, he just showed up and watched practice from the sideline. From there he proceeded to running the game clock and eventually he started taking part in some drills.

“We weren’t going to rush anything. I told him that if he wanted to come back, it would be with baby steps,” Nelson coach Alex Richards said. “I treated C.J. the way I would treat my little brother if he had gone through something like this.”

As last school year was coming to a close, C.J. was the first player to call his new coach and ask about summer workouts. He was named team captain back in June before the new high school had officially opened its doors.

“It’s great to have him back. He’s an all-league kid, but more than that, he’s our leader,” Richards said. “To set that culture, you need your best player to be your best person, and he is.”

Still, running through drills with your friends after school is a far cry from being ready for a game night.

But that time would come.

Three weeks after being released from the hospital, C.J. had an announcement for his family.

 “He came home on a Wednesday and said he was going to play on Friday,” Heather said. “Brian said, ‘That’s awesome.’ I said, ‘That’s not awesome’.”

A worried mom watched from the bleachers, but felt reassured after seeing her son play a bulk of minutes with no hiccups.

“I was so nervous, but I was good by the end of the game,” Heather said. “Basketball brings him so much joy.”

For C.J., the return date was extra special — a home game against his former team, Clackamas.

“We announced the starting lineups and all of the parents stood up and were cheering,” Richards said. “We had moms who had made signs. After all he went through, to be able to get back and play against former teammates and his former coach — it was a special moment.”

To make the night even better, Nelson came away with a 45-41 victory.

“My teammates were super excited and hyping me up,” C.J. said. “Everyone was by my side, but they were making sure that I knew that my health came first.”

C.J. has reemerged as a force in the paint, putting up 25 points in a recent win over Centennial that has the Hawks on the edge of the 6A playoff chase.

“This is the C.J. I saw last spring. Nothing has changed. He’s back to his old self, and the sky is the limit,” Richards said. “Coming into Nelson, I knew there would be a lot of stuff that is new, but I never saw something like this coming.”