The Unstoppable Gabriel Gamarra

Gabriel Gamarra / JENNA ROHDE

“The accident came as such a shock and my entire life changed. There have been plenty of people to tell me: “Gabriel, you can’t do that.” But God always trusts in me and, little by little, His support is helping me to accomplish everything.”– Gabriel Gamarra.

“It all happened so quickly. I had a terrible pain in my head and then felt as if I was about to fall,” says Gabriel, reaching for his glass of Coca Cola but grabbing an ashtray instead. It was November 27, 2008, only a few days after his twentieth birthday. “I lost consciousness, went into cardiac arrest and arrived at the hospital in a coma.”

Gabriel’s life was in the hands of the doctors at the University Hospital of Virgin Rocío in Seville. During 26 critical days, Gabriel trusted in his parents, Jorge and Petita, to work with the doctors and decide what to do. “I had a brain arteriovenous malformation inside my intracerebral wall,” explains Gabriel, as if he were a medical expert with 10 years of training.

Normally, the arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the brain, and the veins carry the blood with less oxygen away from the brain and back to the heart. When a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM) occurs, a tangle of blood vessels in the brain or on its surface bypasses normal brain tissue and directly diverts blood from the arteries to the veins.

With their son trapped in his hospital bed in a vegetative state, Jorge and Petita had to decide whether or not to sign off on Gabriel’s risky operation. The procedure could have awoken him from the coma, but there also lied the possibility that Gabriel could have died. “My parents signed off on the operation because they trusted in my ability to recover,” says Gabriel. “I sincerely have to thank my parents for their bravery in this moment. Thanks to them, I am here today.”

After his operation, he spent one month recovering in the hospital. “Although I had woken up, I had lost my abilities to move and speak,” recounts Gabriel. “If this malformation happened to me in Ecuador, I would have died for the lack of public healthcare that they thankfully provide in Spain with Social Security. In my country, if you don’t have the money to pay for healthcare, you die. I was very lucky that we had moved and that I was in Seville.”

Video stills showing the moment when Gabriel managed to stand after his accident, for the first time. / JENNA ROHDE

After leaving the hospital, Gabriel often lost his balance and stability and suffered from frequent memory loss. “If I didn’t write things down, I forgot them,” he describes. “However, I knew that I had a responsibility with my obligations and that I had to follow through with all that I said I would do.”

After six months of physical therapy, Gabriel began to go to the pool and to lift weights at the gym. The added exercise helped him to regain the strength in his legs and helped to relax his body.

“Although now I can tell my story pretty calmly, as if I had never cried or had never felt sad, it’s only because I have accepted what has happened to me,” explains Gabriel. “Before, I didn’t feel this way; but I remember well that in that moment when I stood up for the first time, I was demonstrating to my parents that I could recover. I had made progress and I was smiling.”

Gabriel believes that having the support of Spring of Life, his evangelical church located in the district of San Jeronimo, played a very important role in his recovery because it helped him establish a relationship with God. “I am an evangelical Christian, but the truth is that before my accident, I didn’t believe in anything. I didn’t really think much of God,” recounts Gabriel. “After the accident, many times I felt very alone, as if there was no one what could help me.” Now, Gabriel says he has complete faith in God to give him strength. “I feel that I am walking with Jesus. I know that He is always with me. He motivated me and was one of the greatest forces in my recovery process,” says Gabriel. “My parents helped me to trust Him and to keep fighting.”

Today, his parents and younger brothers, Elvis and Alberto, live in Germany, and Gabriel lives in an apartment in Seville with friends whom he considers his second family.

“After the accident, I thought something bad might happen to me again. But now, I have no fear,” says Gabriel with great confidence in his voice. “My doctors have told me that something like this can’t happen to me again. I walk with the stability of a drunkard—but man—I can walk! I want to keep moving forward; I want to keep getting better and living my life.”

Almost six years after his accident, Gabriel has abandoned his childhood dream of becoming a soccer player to take on a prominent role as an active member of his church. “I would like to serve God,” says Gabriel. “I don’t know what He has prepared for me, but I hope to always be helping other people.”

Gabriel explains that one of his role models is Nick Vujicic, an Australian man who was born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the absence of all four limbs. Although Nick once struggled to accept his physical disorder, his evangelical faith helped him to come to terms with his unique condition. Today, Nick travels the world giving motivational speeches explaining how God has helped him adjust to his lifestyle. With the same intent to inspire others, Gabriel has created videos that explain his accident and recovery process. With more than 5,000 views on YouTube from people all over the world, he has begun on his journey to help others.

“Every person has his or her own battle, but you have to believe in yourself. At the very least, you have to smile!” Gabriel encourages with a heartwarming beam of his own. “Don’t give up!”