By Kristin Wilson
Looking around the city of San Jose, and in particular on the wrists of the people who live there, you get a sense of the impact that Bryan Stow has left on this community. Bryan’s mother, Ann, was talking to me on my cell phone, trying to navigate me through the vast parking lot at the rehab facility where Bryan is currently living. It probably didn’t help that I’m terrible at directions, so I just decided to ask for some help from the people I passed along the way. The first two people I met were two paramedics getting into an ambulance. I asked them for directions to the building I was looking for, and as they both pointed to their rights, I caught a glimpse of a black and orange bracelet on both their wrists, much like the yellow LiveSTRONG bracelets we all know.
Two nurses, one orderly and one very kind Samaritan later, I had made my way to the Stows, led from one to the next by an unbroken chain of black and orange bracelets. They are the colors of the San Francisco Giants, Bryan’s favorite team. One side reads “STOW” and on the other, “P21732” – Bryan’s paramedic number. It’s a silent tribute to the man who, until recently, has been mostly silent himself. The first day I met him, he only said two words to me, “Hi Kristin” after being prompted by his mom. Ann is the indefatigable matriarch of this ever-growing family of paramedics, and hospital staff, who have become a part of her life since Bryan’s injury last March.
Between Ann, her husband Dave, and her two daughters – and Bryan’s sisters – Bonnie and Erin, at least one member of the family is at the rehab facility every day with Bryan. On the day we visited, the whole family was there and we sat outside with Bryan and talked. Like most sisters, Erin and Bonnie joked with their brother, reveling in those moments when he was able to make a joke or roll his eyes at one of them. At lunch later that day, the girls shared more stories about their brother, but as it had been earlier, every laugh is punctuated with a lingering silence that speaks loudly about the hard truth they face. Erin said, “Sometimes I can’t believe this is real.” But then the moment passes quickly, with Ann reaching across the table for her daughter’s hand, the two STOW bracelets on their wrists nearly touching.
Over the days we were in San Jose, I saw people everywhere wearing the STOW Bracelet. When I had dinner with Ann, Dave and Bonnie that first night, our waitress and the busboy both had on a bracelet. Later during our visit to where Bryan had worked as a paramedic, one of his colleagues gave me a handful of them to share with our crew. When I returned to my hotel that night, the clerk at the front desk noticed my bracelet. “Bryan Stow?” she asked. I said yes and told her why we were in town. She said, “Tell him we’re thinking about him.” I gave her my bracelet. It would be the first of about a dozen I would hand out over the next few days.
In the weeks since we left California, I find myself still looking at people’s wrists. I’ve seen bracelets of LiveSTRONG yellow, AIDS red, Breast Cancer pink and a white one that I wasn’t sure about. But late last week as I stepped onto an elevator, I saw a flash of black and orange with the familiar white lettering. Curiosity got the better of me and I pointed to the man’s arm and said, “Bryan Stow?” He smiled and nodded. “I’m a Giants fan,” he said. Then he paused and said, “I’m a Bryan Stow fan too.” I think Ann would have liked that.