SPRING HILL, Kan. - During his 17 years, Nathan Stiles was known as a beloved son and brother, a star athlete in football and basketball at Spring Hill High School and a spiritual leader among his friends.
He is described as fun-loving, full of life and a friend to everyone. He has carried on that reputation even after he died from an athletic brain injury.
In the year since his death, Nathan has been an organ donor and a major player in research on athletic brain injuries, and he still inspires teenagers to read the Bible.
It has been a year full of lessons according to Nathan's dad, Ron.
“The message is that this life isn't all about you. It’s really about reaching out to others. And it's amazing how that can happen,” Ron said.
Nathan died last October after collapsing on the football field. He had suffered a concussion earlier in the season. He sat out, but had been cleared to play again after a CT scan and full examination.
But his parents said Nathan developed two bleeds in his brain after he played in subsequent games.
No one knew about it until after the bleeding in his brain claimed Nathan’s life.
Just after he died, Nathan's parents faced a difficult decision: would they consider donating part of his brain to a study at Boston University to help treat or prevent other injuries and deaths?
They said “yes.”
"He was very adamant about that as an organ donor, if he didn't need them, then someone else could have them,” said Ron.
Nathan’s story will be part of a documentary that will air in 2012 on CNN. Ron and Connie Stiles went to Boston this past summer to be a part of it.
They are impressed by the effort by the Boston team.
"They have so much to learn,” Ron said. “They have so many dedicated people trying to get to the bottom of this.”
Researchers are looking at the possibility that one concussion could lead to brain bleeds later in life, or even in the next game.
Ron and Connie say they'd love to give other parents a quick answer when asked if their kids should play sports after a concussion. But they can’t.
The Stiles say they returned from Boston with more questions than answers and believe the research has a long way to go.
In the meantime, Connie says parents need to have a conversation with their child athletes.
"I think it’s so important that kids if they have any symptoms tell their parents,” Connie emphasized. “That's so critical."
Today the Stiles focus on what they see as Nathan’s purpose and what they believe Nathan would have wanted, spreading his Christian faith.
"Love one another in the same way I have loved you,” Ron reads from the Gospel of John. “Nathan did that," Ron said.
The effort began at Nathan’s celebration of life, when Connie wanted to give away Bibles.
It quickly turned into the "Nathan Project".
They've donated 4,000 Bibles so far with Nathan's story printed on the inside cover. They keep in contact with teenagers through Facebook.
Now Nathan’s parents are reaching out to teens in detention and prison.
"Somebody sitting in prison, they've got a lot of time to read. What better book to read?" they said.
They say nothing is easy about the loss of a child even though they are confident Nathan is in heaven.
However, the community and the school have rallied around his parents and younger sister Natalie, especially at homecoming.
"Natalie got to be the queen, I handed the crown to the new king for Nathan. It was a good evening, part of the healing process."
While they miss Nathan's smiles, hugs and his love of life, the Stiles believe his will legacy live on: Through the effort to save kids from catastrophic brain injuries and saving souls at the same time.
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