Lino Sanchez, Jr. spent his 18th birthday in a coma at Loma Linda Hospital after a horrific motorcycle accident in 2012. He was transferred several times to hospitals in Riverside and Palmdale while he slept, had 14 surgeries, and even survived a bout with pneumonia—or so doctors told him later.
Three months later.
There were dark times even after he woke up, he told the graduating class of the Come Back Kids (CBK) program in May. CBK is a program offered by the Riverside County Office of Education that provides high school dropouts a chance to recover credits and earn their high school diploma.
Lino confessed to feeling like giving up many, many times, he told graduates. But he didn’t. Now he was on stage as their Commencement speaker and a fellow graduate.
His story, he said, started at a low point.
“At 17, when I could have been having fun and enjoying school, I was lying in a hospital room with no remembrance that I was ever in an accident,” he said. “I was told I might never walk. The nights were the worst—not being out in the world laughing with friends, hanging out at the movies, and just enjoying the life of a teenager.”
He was awake from the coma, but spent two more years in rehabilitation. He did walk again, but with a limp. His left leg is now an inch longer than the right.
In the middle of that long and slow and painful recovery, friends and family kept asking if Lino was intending to finish high school.
“I would say yes, but deep inside, I was doubtful,” he said. “I believed I had too many problems to focus on my education.”
His story changed in 2014. Sanchez had a chance meeting with his brother’s friend, who dropped by his home in Jurupa Valley to borrow his Internet connection and do some high school homework online. They were about the same age and Sanchez asked what kind of school he was in. The friend told him about the CBK program that was available for 19-year olds.
It was like he woke up again.
“I had a shift in my thinking,” he said. “I sought out the program on my own because a high school diploma was a goal that I now wanted for myself.”
Sanchez enrolled in CBK in Corona—one of 20 locations throughout Riverside County. His teacher helped him make up credits. And, more importantly, she encouraged him to never give up.
“I worked hard and studied hard and had to retake tests many times,” he said. “But, school became my inspiration and my reason to live again.”
By 2015, Sanchez had enough credits for a high school diploma. He was asked to speak at Commencement, and he agreed. He wanted to tell fellow graduates something important he had learned.
“I encourage you to sacrifice for things you need to accomplish,” he said at the ceremony. “Life can hit you with unexpected challenges. But, we owe the world the opportunity to see just how great we are. We can use all that we’ve overcome to make this world better.”
Now 21, Sanchez lives with his father in Jurupa Valley. He is still partially disabled, but managed to finish a course to become a certified smog technician. Although he is unable to stand for extended periods of time to actually repair cars, he can do the smog testing as part of his job.
The part-time job represents another awakening—the need to save funds to help pay for community college.
Sanchez said getting the high school diploma made him think he can to college, get a degree. He has dreams now.
“You know I never thought about what I wanted to be when I was a kid,” he said. “Now that I see all that is offered, I can see what I like. I am really good at computers. Maybe I want to be a programmer.”
His family has always been proud of him, he said. They always encouraged him to stay in school, but that wasn’t the problem.
“They would tell me to go to school,” Sanchez said. “But, I had to go for myself. I figured out that you have to do what you have to do. But it has to be something that you want.”
Sanchez now encourages others to try Come Back Kids.
“My friends ask me now, where did you go to school?” he said. “Now I have the answers.”