Ryan Tahbaz

Ryan Tahbaz dribbles the ball deep into Palos Verdes' offensive zone Jan. 22, 2019 against Mira Costa. Tahbaz, who began playing organized soccer at age 5, said the sport has helped him as he grieves the passing of his sister from a brain tumor.

In a matter of twenty days in February, Ryan Tahbaz felt a range of emotions not many his age have experienced.

On Feb. 7, Tahbaz assisted on Jimmy Vogel's game-winning goal in Palos Verdes' 1-0 victory over Santa Barbara in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.

On Feb 27, Tahbaz and his family lost his older sister, Denine, to complications resulting from a brain tumor.

"The amount of emotions involved with those two events were very high," Tahbaz said. "The moment on the field is a relief of physical stress from battling for an entire game, and the mental strength coming from an event that is damaging to your emotions is the opposite."

Tahbaz, part of PV High's 2019 graduating class, recalled Denine going back to Missouri Southern University following winter break only to complain about constant headaches shortly after returning to school.

"(Denine) wasn't feeling well, so my parents (Mike and Liz) found an urgent care for her (in Missouri)," Tahbaz said. "They diagnosed her with strep throat and gave her some antibiotics."

After taking the antibiotics, Denine returned with her symptoms not improving. The doctors prescribed her a bigger dose of antibiotics, but again, no change. Denine returned to the doctor a third time, this time intent on getting an MRI.

"I remember her texting my dad, and saying 'I'm dying and the doctors aren't helping me'," said Tahbaz.

What the doctors told her next was head-scratching, to say the least.

"They told her headaches are occasionally the cause of something greater, and home remedies will solve them most of the time," Tahbaz recalled. "This was that time."

The Friday before Denine passed, her parents were trying to get her a referral for an MRI, but things didn't happen as quickly as they should have. Saturday morning, Denine called her parents and her speech was slurred. Moments later, Denine fainted.

At that point, Denine's roommate called 9-1-1, but the ambulance drivers were just as helpful as the doctors.

"The ambulance drivers assumed she was a drunk college girl, and maybe she took something and that's why she wasn't feeling well," Tahbaz said. "They also said it would cost an extra $1,000 if they took her in the ambulance, with no idea she was literally about to die."

With her life on the line, Denine sat in the ER waiting room like any other patient with no urgency from the hospital staff, who had no idea the severity of her condition.

"They finally did tests and saw a hemorrhage in her brain," Tahbaz said. "This is when we were finally contacted by the hospital at home and rushed to get a flight."

While Tahbaz and his family were making the trek to be at Denine's side, the doctors and hospital staff had begun to attempt to relieve the pressure on Denine's brain caused by the tumor.

"They were sticking tubes in her head to get the pressure out. There was a lot of cerebral and spinal fluid in her brain," Tahbaz said.

Denine was then transferred to the University of Kansas hospital, but staff there knew there was no saving her.

"They told us her condition was irreversible," Tahbaz said.

Over the next few days, Denine continued to endure tests, but the youngest Tahbaz knew the worse had already happened.

"I didn't think she was going to make it from there."

With the grief of his older sister now subsiding, Tahbaz knows surrounding himself with positive people is what's best.

"It's a lot when I'm by myself and in my own thoughts," he said. "Surrounding myself with other people really helps pull me out of the fog, and soccer is great for that. My teammates are brothers to me, and you find good ways to get your mind off of it."

The bond between Ryan and Denine was one that their mother, Liz, witnessed the first day she brought Ryan home from the hospital.

"My mom always tells the story of when they came home with me, my sister ran out the door begging to see me," Tahbaz said. "That summed up our relationship. She showed me way too much attention, and I wouldn't deny her my appreciation. She cherished me, and always thought of me over her."

With high school now behind him, Tahbaz faces the undeniably tough task of where to further his education. Recently accepted into Seton Hall, Tahbaz is also weighing the decision of the University of Miami (Florida), staying close to home and attending Santa Monica College.

Wherever he does go, he knows his future involves a career in sports.

"I'm too young to know what I want to do with my life, but I love sports more than anything," Tahbaz said. "I think I'd like to get into the sports world. If playing isn't for me, maybe owning or coaching - doing something like that. That's what I want to do."

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