Miami-Dade High Schools

After near-death experience, this volleyball player is back on court with a heavy heart

A six-inch horizontal scar snakes its way across her forehead, and a metal plate rests inside her left arm, between elbow and wrist.

The psychological wounds surely run even deeper, and all of them serve as constant reminders of the most horrifying night of Indira Rambarran’s life.

Rambarran, now 17 and a senior at Lourdes Academy, was a passenger on a Saturday night, July 28, 2018, when her boyfriend, Ari Arteaga, lost control of his Jeep Wrangler. The vehicle slammed into a utility pole, and the impact took the life of Arteaga, the 16-year-old son of Miami Hurricanes pitching coach J.D. Arteaga.

The Florida Highway Patrol’s report from the night of the one-car crash said Rambarran’s injuries were “incapacitating.”

But the Arteaga family — despite their unimaginable sorrow — has helped Rambarran find the best doctors as she has gone through a nearly miraculous rehabilitation, including six rounds of plastic surgery.

“She’s the closest thing we have to Ari,” J.D. Arteaga said. “They were in high school, but they were in love. Seeing her brings back good memories of him.

“From the get-go, whatever she needed, we wanted to do. Anything we would do for Ari, we would do for Indira.”

Because of the medical care she has received and through her own will and determination, Rambarran has somehow found her way back onto the volleyball court, where she serves as co-captain and starting libero for a Lourdes team that will visit Nova on Wednesday night in a Class 6A regional quarterfinal playoff game.

“Physically, I’m probably 90 percent,” she said. “There are certain movements I make with my left arm that still cause a sharp pain.”

Rambarran, who hopes to attend the University of Miami next year to study business, has decided that this will be her final season playing volleyball, a sport that she took up at age 12. That makes Lourdes’ current playoff run her likely last hurrah in volleyball.

“I don’t want our season to end,” said Rambarran, who is 5-7. “I want us to go as far as we can.”

Rambarran has a 4.42 GPA, 3.95 unweighted, and her 30 score on the ACT is equally outstanding.

As for college, Rambarran said: “I want to be a typical student, maybe study abroad. I want to experience more than just playing volleyball.”

Added Arteaga: “I hope she goes to UM, if that’s she wants. I would love to see her walking the UM campus.”

A SPECIAL BOND

On the back of a necklace that Rambarran wears are the words, “one in a million.”

The necklace was a 2017 Christmas gift from Ari Arteaga, who played football and baseball at Columbus High School. The couple met through mutual friends, and there was an instant connection due to similar personality traits.

“I was 15 when we started dating,” Rambarran said. “He was charismatic, funny. He could walk into a room and brighten it with his energy.”

Beyond saying good-bye to her mother, Jodi Youst, Rambarran doesn’t remember anything about the night of the crash. But police reports — and her injuries — tell the story.

Driving on 87th Avenue near S.W. 64 Street — not far from her house — Arteaga’s car hit the median at about 9:45 p.m. The Jeep swerved across the avenue, over the curb and sidewalk and into the concrete utility pole, knocking out power in the neighborhood.

Rambarran’s father said his daughter was “covered in cuts from head to toe,” including a piece of glass that struck her neck that could’ve been fatal.

“One of the policemen who discovered her said she was cognizant enough to crawl out of the back of the vehicle,” Richard Rambarran said. “Her arm was mangled, but she followed the officer’s instructions. Once she got out of the car, she fell unconscious until rescue arrived.

“What she did to survive was close to superhuman.”

Youst said police officers visited her home on the night of the accident.

She refused to answer the door.

“My whole family is in law enforcement — I know that no officer comes to your door at midnight with good news,” Youst said.

Her son finally opened the door for the officers, who said Arteaga had died instantly, and Rambarran was in critical condition.

“I couldn’t believe it was happening,” Youst said. “The officers said they could hear a girl screaming from blocks away. Indira was telling the officers to leave her alone and help Ari.”

More than 150 stitches were required to close her wounds, and it “looked like her scalp had been pulled back behind her head,” Richard Rambarran said.

She coped with a severe concussion — the effects of which lasted about three months — and seizures that were triggered by movements.

Once Rambarran got to the hospital, doctors induced a coma for 48 hours to get her stabilized.

When she finally woke up, she had one question.

“I kept asking my mom, ‘How’s Ari?’” Rambarran said. “But they never gave me a clear answer. They brushed off my questions.”

TRAGIC NEWS

Former Lourdes volleyball player Sabrina Garcia, who is one of Rambarran’s best friends, heard about the accident at about 4 a.m. the following morning.

“I didn’t sleep that night,” Garcia said.

Instead, she started “blowing up” the phone of Lourdes coach Pedro Penate to let him and others know the tragic news.

The following day, July 30, had been “set in stone” for volleyball tryouts at Lourdes.

“We had to try to play as if nothing had happened,” Garcia said. “Our coach sat us all down and talked to us. He told us that if we had to go cry in the middle of the workout, we could. He was good about it.”

After the tryout, the entire Lourdes squad went to Kendall Regional hospital, visiting Rambarran in shifts.

“Her scalp was peeled back, and her hair was all over the place,” Garcia said. “She had a big gash on her forehead and her arm … It was surreal.”

Rambarran didn’t yet know about Arteaga’s fate because she had just gotten out of the coma, and his parents wanted to be the ones, along with Indira’s mom and dad, who told her the awful news about Ari.

“When we visited her, we knew not to bring him up — just happy faces,” Garcia said. “It was really difficult keeping it together. It felt like we were lying to her.”

COMEBACK KID

On Oct. 9, 2018 — less than 11 weeks following the accident — Rambarran made her way to the volleyball court, at least in a largely ceremonial fashion.

With the generous agreement from Doral Academy coach Julio Arnaiz, Rambarran served the opening ball of the match. The Doral players let it fall for an ace, and Rambarran left the court amid cheering from everyone in the gym.

“I was crying and happy and emotional,” said Youst, her mother. “[But] Indira has always been a strong kid [mentally].”

Penate can vouch for the toughness of Rambarran, who plays a physically demanding position. It’s her job to save all the spikes that elude the front wall.

“We funnel all the hard hits toward her, and she gets a lot of impact on her arms,” Penate said. “She has to be more alert than usual because she can’t afford to get hit in the face due to the concussion she suffered. It took her some time to get back up to speed, but she may be playing better than ever.”

Youst said her daughter’s toughness extends beyond the court.

“After the accident, we all claimed that the TVs in the hospital were broken, just so she wouldn’t see any news coverage,” Youst said. “But when she finally saw the photos on her phone, she said: ‘I get why everyone says I’m a miracle.’”

When it came time for classes to resume at Lourdes in the fall of 2018, Youst wanted her daughter to stay home and heal.

Rambarran had other ideas.

“She said, ‘No, if I can walk and breathe, I’m going to school. I’ve been given a second chance at life. It’s a miracle, and I’m not going to take anything for granted,’” Youst recalled.

“Indira went to school with a brace on her left arm, her head still wrapped. She wore a hat. But she wasn’t embarrassed.”

As for the Arteagas — who started a foundation called “Be The Light” to honor their son — their love for Indira is obvious.

“At the funeral service for Ari, J.D. [Arteaga] spoke last and said that he lost a son but gained a daughter,” Youst said. “They have been wonderful to her.

“She was a very important part of Ari’s life. They planned to attend UM together and to get married. They had a song picked out for the wedding.

“If anyone knew Ari, it was a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ type of love. He would have done anything humanly possible so that the pole hit him and not her.”

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