Since he was a boy, Damien Pereira wanted to be a firefighter.
The 25-year-old had realized that dream and was fighting a blaze sparked by lightning in Central California when his life changed forever.
The small wildfire near Sequoia National Park was safely contained on July 3 and Pereira was preparing to roll up a hose so his crew could leave when he heard a live oak crack and begin to fall.
He knew the falling branch was close by. He turned to run and got only a couple of steps away.
“I felt the tree hit me in the top of my helmet and then just crush me down,” Pereira said. “I felt like I was in the fetal position. ... I asked my partner … ‘Hey, can you straighten out my legs?’ and he was like, ‘Your legs are straight,’” Pereira said.
He was airlifted to a hospital.
“He was on the gurney in the trauma unit, and I just went back and gave him a kiss, and he looked at me and he said, ‘They said I might never walk again,’” his wife, Klara Pereira, recalled.
Since then, the Cal Fire firefighter has undergone multiple surgeries. His wife, a nurse, has cut back her working hours to take care of him and their 2-year-old son.
For Pereira, one of the most difficult things is no longer getting to work doing the job that he loves.
“Being gone is … really hard,” he said. “I miss that more than I miss walking.”
The Fire Family Foundation is raising funds to support the couple and their child through the Damien Pereira Recovery Fund.
Pereira is in rehabilitation in Northridge, according to the fund’s page. Donations will assist the family during rehab.
“It’s wonderful that you see so much kindness in the human spirit,” Klara Pereira said.
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