South Tahoe’s Gutierrez fights off life-threatening diagnosis, starts every game for Vikings |

South Tahoe’s Gutierrez fights off life-threatening diagnosis, starts every game for Vikings

South Tahoe Lulu Gutierrez stands with her family at Vikings Stadium on senior day for the girls' soccer team.
Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

Lulu Gutierrez feels blessed to be alive. She’s happy to be able to walk and talk and even more thrilled to live a normal teenager’s life.

She thinks it’s a miracle. And she may be right.

The South Tahoe senior was giving a presentation about euthanasia in December of her junior year, not realizing how close she was to losing her own life.

Gutierrez was speaking to the class and suddenly developed a bad headache. She knew she was talking, but couldn’t process what she was saying. Following her presentation she visited the school nurse who suggested she go see her regular doctor.

She went to the emergency room. CT scans were taken. Shortly after, Gutierrez was in an ambulance headed to UC Davis where should would undergo a 10-hour surgery the next day.

“I’ve had headaches before but nothing that felt like that,” Gutierrez said. “I was scared. I knew it was a life and death situation. I tried to prepare myself for the worst. In a blink of an eye I was almost gone.”

Gutierrez was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. Forty percent of people who get them do not live. About 70 percent suffer some permanent neurological deficit and 15 percent of patients die before reaching a hospital.

It’s not an ideal thing to hear.

Gutierrez remembers everything about the long ride to the hospital. Her thoughts were everywhere. It was hard to process that something so big was happening to her that she needed to be taken hours away from her South Lake Tahoe home to have surgery.

Following the long surgical procedure, Gutierrez stayed for about three weeks at UC Davis.

Recovery was not immediate. She fainted the next day while her mom tried to help her to the restroom. She was still scared. She felt paralyzed.

“Later in the first week, I had no pain in my head, but it hurt to move,” Gutierrez said.

Slowly she began a full recovery and started thinking about the things she loves to do. Soccer is right near the top of the list. She was disappointed she had to leave the sport for about six months. She wanted to return to her club team and also play with her Viking teammates in her senior year.

South Tahoe head coach Mark Salmon, who also coached Gutierrez’s club team, texted her while she was in the hospital.

“She was telling me that ‘I will be back. I don’t care what doctors or my parents say. I don’t care what the record books say, I will be back and playing. Count on me for my senior year coach,’” said Salmon, who has coached Gutierrez for about five years. “I said look, ‘let’s not worry about soccer, worry about getting better. Take care of yourself, focus on your family and health and I’ll talk to you soon.’ I did not think there was any way in the world she would be back playing soccer.”

But she was determined. She went through a couple weeks of physical therapy at UC Davis where she got used to walking and got those nerves firing again.

“I told my parents that I’m alive and there’s a reason I’m alive and I’m going to keep doing what I love,” Gutierrez said.

She rejoined her club team at the end of the spring season and participated in a couple of practices. She improved so fast she wanted to play in the last couple of games. But Salmon, who was scared to death seeing her on the field but also thought she looked ready to play, used caution and told her to take it slow and be patient.

Gutierrez worked hard over the summer and came ready to play in the fall. She started every game for the Vikings this fall and helped lead the team to the playoffs where they will fight for a state title starting at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 10, against Sunrise Mountain at Spanish Springs High School in Sparks, Nevada.

“I don’t know where it came from, but she worked hard and started every game for us this year,” Salmon said. “And this is not a weak team by any stretch. She’s the most coachable player you’ll ever meet. She always has a big smile from ear to ear and nobody works harder, nobody cares more.”

“I was one of those lucky people to stay alive with no complications,” said Gutierrez, who is more cautious when using her head while playing. “I’m here playing soccer today, going back to my original life. I’m still kind of scared because when I went in for a checkup I met a woman who has had five aneurysms and it’s scary that another can develop since I’m prone to that. But it goes through my head everyday. It’s a daily reminder of how blessed I am and all that I have yet to achieve in my life. It strengthens me everyday.”

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