Manteca medic badly injured by an explosive device in Iraq

MANTECA -- Christopher Braley's grandmother held to her faith as he lay in a hospital bed Thursday, recovering from serious wounds suffered in Iraq.

The Navy medic, who went to Iraq two months ago, was hit by an explosive device Sunday that sent shrapnel into his right eye and brain. He is being kept unconscious at a military hospital in Maryland. He has brain swelling, doctors told her.

"They said it's going to be week by week," Jane Braley, 64, said. "It's serious. We don't know right now but I'm confident he is going to come out of it."

Christopher, 22, who goes by Chris, was a standout basketball player at Sierra High School in Manteca. He was known as a campus clown who loved to make people laugh; he gradu-ated in 2004. A stint in a job training program at St. Dominic's Hospital sparked a dream to become a nurse, and his grandmother said he joined the Navy a year after graduation to get experience.

The Marines he was traveling with Sunday near Fallujah call him "Doc Braley." Gunfire broke out. The explosive detonated about the same time. The unit's commanding officer said the shrapnel hit Braley took shielded a Marine. He also was hit, but not as seriously.

Couldn't save his eye

Braley was rushed to Baghdad, then Germany and finally to Bethesda, Md., to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Doctors removed shrapnel from Braley's brain but weren't able to save his eye, his grandmother said. He remained in a medically induced coma Thursday. In a bright sign, he began breathing on his own, she said.

Meanwhile, Braley prayed and readied to go to the bedside of the grandson she helped raise. Her daughter, Debra Braley, lived at home when Christopher was young, and he returned to live with Jane and his grandfather, Larry Braley, so he could go to Sierra High. Debra Braley plans to go with her mother to Maryland.

Smiling pictures of the 22-year-old line the end tables and walls. Well-wishers who know him have called nonstop to offer their prayers.

Lots of prayers

Jane Braley talked to them until Wednesday evening, when she couldn't take it anymore and told her husband she needed to take a break to cry. On Thursday, she let the answering machine record the messages and listened to them when she could.

"There are so many prayers, a lot of support, I honestly don't know what I would do without it," she said. "It's hard being so far away and him being injured. I don't want him to wake up all alone there and me not be there. It's hard enough."

The tears disappear and her blue eyes light up when she talks about her grandson's nickname, "Doc Braley." He recently had written that he was doing his best to keep up the crew's spirits.

"He would go on those patrols so that if anyone was hurt, he could take care of them," Braley said. "He's always wanted to be a nurse when he gets out of the Navy. He has an uncle at Kaiser hospital who he kind of idolizes, and then he did the job training at St. Dominic's."

He didn't want to go to college, and the Navy provided an alternative, she said. He was based in Illinois for a year and left for Iraq from Camp Pendleton in Southern California earlier this year, following the path of other relatives.

A cousin by marriage, Andrew Clover of Atwater, served two tours in Iraq, Braley said. He had been to Fallujah, which instilled a sense of confidence.

"(Chris) didn't get nervous about going, and we all had such confidence since (Clover) had been there, and we thought it was going to be fine. We're a family of strong faith and prayers and all of us didn't give a lot of thought that it would be this serious," Braley said. "But one never knows."

Medical staff told her that her grandson likely would be in the hospital for two months.

"I really believe he is going to come through," Braley said. "I have a strong faith we are going to have our strong boy back."

Bee photographer Bart Ah You contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at imiller@modbee.com or 599-8760.