For 18 years, Louie Gonzalez lived with hydrocephalus and had no idea he had it, the "it" being a condition where excessive fluid builds up in the brain. A New York Jets fan since he was 13-years-old, the Brooklyn-born and bred Gonzalez had suffered repeated headaches throughout his life. The doctors were at a loss as multiple CT scans revealed nothing.
It wasn't until an MRI in 2002 gave the doctors the diagnosis of hydrocephalus and medication was prescribed. He went on living his life normally, cheering for the Jets (he credits former Jets head coach Bill Parcells for making him a fan as an early teenager) and starting a family. Then in 2010, Gonzalez began to have blurred vision and the headaches became worse, the combination of the two at one time becoming so bad that he ended up in a serious car accident. The doctors didn't know what to do, as Gonzalez was far from a textbook case.
Hydrocephalus is rare, estimated to affect one or perhaps two out of every 1,000 newborns. It is a condition that is often discovered at birth where surgery is often done almost immediately. But Gonzalez, well into his mid-20s, was a rare case for a rare disease. Doctors just generally don't operate on adults with hydrocephalus.
Everyday life became difficult for Gonzalez, and even watching his beloved Jets from his home in central Florida – he moved to Orlando a couple years after the diagnosis – was difficult given the symptoms. Surgery was eventually done, and a shunt put into place that allowed the excess fluids in the brain to drain directly into his bladder. It all seemed to go along well until the fall of 2012.
“I was acting really strange with my memory and blurry vision again.,” Gonzalez told Metro, admitting to strange and unusual thoughts and memories. “So the reason I was acting like that again was because the shunt was infected and the fluid was building up badly. They rushed me into surgery and did surgery. After surgery they opened and closed my head again and again. During the process I had a few minor strokes and was put into a short coma. I was in the coma for a few months till about June of 2013.”
At one point, he was considered legally dead.
He woke up paralyzed and in a vegetative state, on a feeding tube. The doctor told Gonzalez's wife to call his family in New York to come say goodbye as they were certain the end was near. One more surgery was planned to try and save his life.
His church family, he says, was praying around the clock for him.
The surgery was deemed a success, but Gonzalez's wife, who was originally told that her husband was likely to die, was now told he was likely to be a vegetable for the end of his life. She must have wondered what kind of life it would be for him and for her. Feeding tubes and life in a state of bare existence. All this with a family to care for.
For a second time however, the doctors were wrong about Gonzalez.
He would go to rehab and begin to recover. He continued to pray, his Christian faith growing more important to him. Time was spent in church and with his family. Pretty soon, the feeding tube came out, then he was sent home in a wheelchair, still paralyzed but making progress.
The doctors said he might never walk again and that he would likely remain paralyzed from the neck down.
Already told once that he might die and another time that he would be confined to bed in a vegetative state, Gonzalez refused to listen to his doctors. He would force himself out of the chair and take a step. Then another. And another. The progress came slowly and painfully but nearly two years after that first surgery that left him in a coma, Gonzalez was slowly walking. A walker helped him through the painful, stunted steps.
Soon there was again feeling in his legs. He was walking.
And it was perhaps the greatest victory ever in the history of the Jets franchise. A simple bet with his brother, a New England Patriots fan, pushed Gonzalez to begin to piece his life together.
The bet was simple: His brother would wear a Jets jersey every game during the 2014 season if he could get out of the wheelchair and walk again.
A die-hard Jets fan who has a tattoo of the team's logo, he knew he had to see this.
“I worked even harder to make that happen. Then It happened. I was walking around the house while holding on to the walls and then I called my brother Jonathan and told him to hurry and come toy house because I had something for him,” Gonzalez said. “When he opened the door I walked right up to him for the first time in in almost two years and I had the jersey in my hand for him. And he kept his word.”
The brothers embraced, tears flowing.
He would keep his word; his brother wore that Jets jersey every Sunday last year, a reminder of perseverance and fortitude. In turn, Gonzalez kept right on making progress. He now plays football with his children and shoots hoops. His life is active although he lives with the daily fear of something else going wrong. God, he believes, wants him on this Earth for a certain purpose.
Now, it is his turn, the man who has inspired family and friends with his courage and belief in a plan greater than himself, who is set to fulfill a dream.
Gonzalez has never been to MetLife Stadium for a Jets game and fans have begun to rally around his cause.
“When I heard about Louie's story on Facebook, I was immediately inspired to help," said Jason Koeppel, the founder of FireJohnIdzik.com, who last week created the site TeamLouie2nyc.com. "To be able to organize a way for fellow Jets fans to rally behind this amazing man and his family is truly an honor.
“Jets fans are sometimes portrayed unfairly in the media. The overwhelming amount of support 'Team Louie' has received already proves that we have some of the best fans in the NFL.”
In late March, Jets linebacker and a player who is very much of the heart and soul of the locker room, Demario Davis, reached out to Gonzalez. Davis had learned of the fan's journey and his faith. He promised Gonzalez sideline passes and a parking pass for the home opener.
His blood, he claims, is green. Jets green.
Now fans have rallied to his cause. Along with Koeppel's support, the fundraiser began due to the hard work of Kristine Choma and Michelle Lattas Vittone. To date, the group has raised nearly $1,800 and the entirety of the fundraising efforts go towards the Gonzalez family.
Every step is one, he says, that is cherished. He never knows when he might be in a wheelchair again.
“My message to the world was that if you never give up on what you believe in or want there is nothing that can stop you,” Gonzalez said. “Failing is not an option. And saying 'I can't' is not an option as well.”