For 16-year-old Conner Reeves, March 2 was just another Saturday morning to go surfing — until he found himself saving a man's life.
"My friend had a competition down at Golden West. I never surf there, so I just went with her just to surf there because I could get a ride down there with her," said Reeves, a sophomore at Edison High School.
After riding a few waves, Reeves ran over an unmanned surfboard that knocked him off his own.
Reeves got back up and tried to look for the other surfer to ask if they and their board were all right, but he couldn't find anyone.
"I started to look closely and from the foam left over from the wave, I could see the back of someone's wetsuit," he said. "So I started yelling, 'Hey!' trying to get his attention. Then I took off the leash of my board and bailed my board out to the side."
The teen swam toward the figure to get a closer look.
The man in the wetsuit was 48-year-old Pete Statti, an independent painting contractor who was catching a few waves before his son's baseball game.
"I flipped him over and when I did that, I didn't know what to expect," Reeves said. "I honestly thought I was going to deal with someone that was dead because he was faced down doing nothing."
As soon as Reeves flipped him over, the Costa Mesa resident who grew up in Huntington Beach, took a deep breath of fresh air and said "I can't move," Reeves said.
"I thought it was all over," Statti said. "I was very lucky and I got little angels looking after me that day."
He said he thinks he was face down in the water for about a minute.
Statti said he pearled while riding a wave, was tossed underwater and hit the top of his head on a sand bar.
Pearling is when the nose the surfboard digs underneath the water, causing the surfer to fall over the front of the board.
After hitting his head, Statti floated to the top and was conscious, but couldn't move any of his extremities, said Michelle Statti, Pete's wife who was at home at time of the accident.
"I was faced down and trying to hold my breath," Pete said. "Then [Reeves] came along, flipped me over and saved me."
Having some experience with the state junior lifeguard program when he was younger, Reeves started thinking of ways to get Statti back to the shore.
"You really don't expect this to happen. I've been surfing for years and I've never seen anything come close to that. And when it just came down to me, I guess I can say all the training with junior lifeguards paid off."
First he tried to get Statti onto his board, but didn't have the strength to place him on top.
"So I got him to the point where his board was at the back of his neck so he can keep his head above the water," Reeves said. "I started swimming like that with my arm around his waist."
As he paddled in, Reeves got the attention of two other surfers who swam over to him and Statti. Now with more people, the three placed Statti onto his board and headed toward the beach.
"A second after we got him on the sand, a lifeguard was driving by and asked if everything was OK, and we were like, 'No,'" Reeves said. "We called him over and he called more lifeguards over and they just took it from there."
Marine Safety Officer Eric Ching, who was at the scene, commends the teen for his efforts.
"We're paid to have situational awareness. That's what we do for a living," Ching said. "But normal citizens a lot of times don't have that kind of situational awareness, but it sounds like he did."
Marine Safety Lt. Michael Beuerlein said that because of Reeves' heroics, he turned this situation into a less tragic event.
"We rely on assistance from people who are in the water because no matter how much training we have, we can't be everywhere and see everything that happens," Beuerlein said. "So a lot of times surfers, in particular, are a lot closer to an incident when it occurs and a lot of times they will keep the patient afloat until we can get there. Many lives have been saved that way, and it sounds like this is an example of that."
Statti was rushed to UC Irvine Medical Center where they discovered he had bruised his spinal cord along C3, C4, C6 and C7, Michelle Statti said.
On Sunday morning, Pete went through a 5 1/2-hour procedure to alleviate pressure on his spinal cord.
"What they had to do was go in and pull all of those disks and bones away from the spinal cord and then reattach them to release the swelling and put gaps in it," she said. "I think he has around 14 screws holding [his spine] from C2 to C7."
Statti stayed in the ICU at for a little over a week and recently transferred to Long Beach Memorial Medical Center on Monday night, said Sherral Heaton, a family friend of the Stattis.
"Every day he gets a little bit better," Michelle said. "When it first happened, he couldn't move anything. Then he started moving his upper arm and right foot a little bit. After the surgery, he was able to move his left toe and every day he gets a little bit better on the left side."
As of now, Pete can move his arms, but cannot move his hands or fingers, Michelle said. He can also move his legs and feet a little.
"His right side is a lot stronger than the left side," she said. "They started him in rehab [Tuesday] and they have him in a wheelchair."
Though Pete has begun his rehab process, which can range from six months to a year, Michelle said doctors won't tell them if he would ever be able to walk again.
"I just want to walk again and play with my kid," Pete said.
All involved said Reeves was there at the right place at the right time.
"We owe him everything. I owe him everything," Michelle said. "He saved my husband's life. He's a hero."
How To Help
•Sherral Heaton, the Stattis' close family friend, started an online fundraiser at FundRazr to help pay for medical expenses. Donations can be made at ow.ly/iSkfc.
•A fundraising event at Patrick's Pub, 2645 Habor Blvd., Costa Mesa is set for 5 to 10 p.m. March 27.