As NBC 7'S Christine Haas shows us in this exclusive report, it's often impossible to determine just how bad a head injury is -- until it's too late.
We've heard a lot lately about the dangers of concussions in football.
The latest statistics reveal about half of the kids who have played high-school football for four years, have had at least one concussion.
That highlights just how critical it is to educate those who respond to injured athletes, like La Costa Canyon High School football player, Sam Casinelli.
On October 14, 2011, Sam took a severe blow to his head and neck during a game.
Scripps Hospital's Michael Van Buskirk, M.D. was on the sidelines. He and the team's athletic trainer suspected a neck injury.
"It's still very emotional to me," Van Buskirk said.
He and 6 other emergency responders strapped Sam to a backboard and carried him onto an ambulance. While Sam’s flesh looked unscathed, they all knew Sam had symptoms of a more serious problem.
He had tingling in his arms and legs that required more extensive testing. But, his mom wasn’t prepared for what the doctors concluded with an MRI and CATSCAN.
“Right in the ER...we found out it was not good," Diane Casinelli said.
Sam had two broken vertebrae and torn ligaments in his spinal cord. Diane said the neurologist reported Sam’s injuries were eerily similar to Actor, Christopher Reeves.
"There was literally nothing holding Sam's neck together at all," Van Buskirk said.
Buskirk says after Sam’s initial injury, a mere inch of movement of his neck or back would have killed him.
But, the neurosurgeon was able to save Sam by placing a plate, 2 rods and 4 screws in Sam's neck.
"He even sat back for a second and said it's a miracle that he can move. It's a miracle that he's as strong as he is because he tested him immediately and he couldn't believe it," Diane Casinelli said.
NBC 7 San Diego caught up with Sam eight months after that devastating injury as he played high school baseball. Doctors and trainers call him a miracle and stress that he is a prime example of the dangers of taking head and neck injuries too lightly.
"You don't really think about that in the moment, but when you get out of the shower and see the scars, it flashes back," Sam Casinelli recalls.
The curtain has closed for Sam's time on the grid-iron. Doctors say no more football, but his Mom says that she was overjoyed as she watched Sam help the Maverick's win the this year's state championship.
She says every time she looks out at her son as he plays sports she will be reminded of just how fragile life can be.
"I thank the Lord because someone definitely had my back that night. There was someone out there. I'm just very thankful,” Sam said.