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Boxer Who Nearly Lost Life in Bout Headed Home Friday

Times Staff Writer

Ruben Contreras is going home.

Ten weeks after suffering a brain injury in a boxing match at Staples Center that left him close to death, and five weeks after entering the Rancho Los Amigos rehabilitation center in Downey, the 32-year-old fighter, a native of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, is scheduled for release Friday, according to Ziyad Ayyoub, a physician at the facility.

“He suffered a severe traumatic brain injury,” Ayyoub said. “There cannot be a worse one. He has made significant progress for somebody with that type of injury, and he will continue to improve over the next year to two years. Nobody with such an injury will be 100% of what he was before. I doubt if he will ever be totally normal. But he’s a lucky guy. He was almost dead.”

After signaling that he wanted to quit in the sixth round of a scheduled eight-round flyweight match against Brian Viloria, Contreras collapsed as he left the ring, suffering a seizure. He was rushed to California Hospital Medical Center, where he underwent 2 1/2 hours of surgery to eliminate a blood clot in the area of the brain.

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Contreras could understand only simple verbal commands and give yes-and-no answers to questions when he was admitted to Rancho Los Amigos.

But now, Contreras, who speaks Spanish, communicates easily, is able to eat, shower and dress on his own, and engages in a variety of activities at the facility in addition to his therapy. He plays chess, checkers, cards and bingo, paints, plays the guitar and watches television. His wife, Nancy, and other family members visit daily.

“He just beat me [Tuesday] in chess,” said Pablo Vega, one of Contreras’ therapists. “He is very eager to participate in everything we do here. He is very motivated, a fun guy. I love him.”

Contreras, who did carpentry work when he wasn’t fighting, has even begun to pick up his old tools, sanding down wood with increasing proficiency as his strength returns.

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“He is aware that his boxing days are over,” Vega said, “and he’s at peace with the idea that he will no longer fight.”

Still suffering from weakness on his left side, Contreras requires a walker to go short distances and a wheelchair for more extended outings. Upon his release, he plans to live with relatives in Los Angeles while maintaining an extensive therapy program. Eventually, he hopes to return to his El Paso home.


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