Steph Okenge always dreamed of playing pro basketball.
As an elite high school player in Ottawa, he took that next step when he left for Nebraska in his senior year on a university scholarship.
Last month, however, the 19-year-old's dreams were altered forever when the car he was riding in careened off an interstate and crashed into a concrete culvert.
The impact broke six of Okenge's vertebrae, leaving him unable to move from his shoulders down, his older brother Ben told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Wednesday.
Now the Okenge family is coming to grips with the life-shattering severity of the crash, while also trying to figure out how to cover Okenge's medical bills when the insurance he has through his university runs out.
"Honestly, he's handled it much better than I even would have expected. He's a really positive person and that's really been shining through," Ben Okenge said.
"What he's going through is real, and it's not pleasant. I don't try to sugarcoat it for him. But at the same time, we're just glad that he's alive at all."
'Really rough shape'
The crash happened on Oct. 23, homecoming weekend at York University, Ben said.
Steph and his teammates had been up for nearly a full day, as the weekend was filled with basketball activities and homecoming celebrations.
He was riding in the front passenger seat of his teammate's car, Ben said, when the friend fell asleep at the wheel. The car veered off the highway, striking a sign and then collided with the culvert.
When Steph arrived at the hospital, he was in "really, really rough shape," his brother told Ottawa Morning.
"His breathing was completely assisted by a ventilator. He couldn't breathe at all on his own," Ben said. "So it was really, really scary to see him that way."
The resulting spinal cord damage was so severe, he said, that doctors believe it's unlikely Steph will ever regain feeling or movement below his shoulders.
"He didn't really start processing it until probably just a week ago. And honestly, he's been doing remarkably well with it, all things considered," Ben said.
"We're talking about a 19-year-old who wanted to be a professional basketball player, being told he's probably never going to move again. So obviously it's a lot for him."
Insurance set to run out
The hope, Ben said, is that eventually his younger brother will be able to leave the Nebraska ICU, where he has received care since the crash, and continue his recovery back in Canada.
Since Steph still can't breathe independently, the family will likely have to charter a "ridiculously expensive" medical plane to get him there, Ben said.
With his university insurance policy only going up to $500,000, the family has launched an online fundraiser. As of Friday, they'd raised more than $118,000 — a significant amount, but still short of their $400,000 goal.
Coupled with that financial burden is the emotional one. The Okenge family is doing what it can to take care of each other, but Ben says going about his day while his younger brother lies paralyzed in an ICU bed leaves him with the worst guilt he's ever felt.
"There are some days that are really hard, just to get out of bed," he said.
"We say we're all on Team Steph right now ... but it's definitely not easy. There have been a lot of tears, and not a lot of sleep. It's been horrible the past few weeks."