Nick Burriel on a long road to recovery after a fight at Fresno's Elbow Room restaurant

Last November, a fun night out with friends ended in the parking lot of Fresno's Elbow Room restaurant, and Nick Burriel fighting to stay alive.
February 26, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Last November, a fun night out with friends ended in the parking lot of Fresno's Elbow Room restaurant, and Nick Burriel fighting to stay alive.

Fresno police say Burriel nearly died when he was assaulted and left unconscious. Nick had major head trauma and was in a coma for weeks. Last month, he was released from an in-patient rehab facility and is now recovering at home.

Everyday Nick Burriel is reaching new milestones, he has gone from standing, to walking to now he is even jogging. Physically, he is doing well, but it's the brain injury that has really crippled his ability to truly move on. He is learning letters and sounds and words, even trying to recognize his own name.

"It was just a step back in my life, but I'm here now, so I won't quit," said Nick. "I have to get back to the way I was before. That's the plan."

Simple tasks Nick Burriel mastered long ago, he is learning again.

Nick's dad said, "It's not going to be a quick 100 yard sprint, we know it's going to be a marathon for Nick."

A marathon challenging his body, and his mind.

Everyday, all day, the once division one college soccer player, with great athletic talent, now needs assistance with the smallest daily activities.

"Bathing, feeding himself, although he is trying, he needs work at it," explained Nick's dad.

Nick's life took a sudden turn for the worst just before thanksgiving. Fresno police and witnesses say Nick and Aharon Davoyan exchanged words and punches inside the Elbow Room bar and grill before the two were escorted outside. What happened next remains under investigation. But, the brawl left Davoyan walking away and Burriel lifeless.

Davoyan was arrested and charged with two felony charges of assault causing great bodily injury and battery. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. A preliminary hearing is set for April. Davoyan has not made any public statement about what happened.

"I got to tell you," said Nick. "I was dead for 20 minutes, and I lost 25 of my years."

Nick says he does not remember what happened to him, only details his parents have shared with him about the November night that ended with him on life support. He suffered two collapsed lungs, and a bruised heart. But, his biggest obstacle has been from a traumatic brain injury.

For two weeks he was in a coma, and for two months he was in the hospital, first in intensive care, then rehab. Nick lost 25 pounds in three weeks.

Since he was a toddler, his nickname has been champ. Nick inherited his love of soccer from his father who played professionally and still coaches locally. Now, off the field, a dedicated dad patiently guides Nick through drill after drill.

Together they celebrate, even the smallest milestones.

Nick's dad explained, "We laugh, cry and play together, everyday."

Each day brings progression. Repeating the same exercises is helping the mobility in Nick's hands and arms. His speech is improving daily, and his vision is becoming more clear.

Some things are still the same about Nick, like his funny personality and love of good food.

Nick: "I'm waiting for Japanese Kitchen."

Sontaya: "Oh, you want to go to Japanese Kitchen?

Nick: "Yea. That's my favorite food."

Sontaya: "It is? Was it before?"

Nick: "Yea."

Sontaya: "What do you like there?"

Nick: "The rice and teriyaki sauce."

No matter the tireless hours, doing the same thing, Nick rarely gets frustrated or fed up.

"Yea, it's hard," said Nick. "But, like I told you. I can't quit so that's not on my mind right now."

"My son is my hero," said Nick's dad. "I see the courage that he has. And you know, just his good heart."

Nick has set his goals on graduating from college with a finance degree and getting back to work. He has also been inspired by his girlfriend. Nick said despite his bad eyesight, he can see her perfectly and his parents agreed she has been the best medicine for him.


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