15-Year-old Honduran Native Thanks Surgeons Who Saved His Life at Cohen Children’s Medical Center

Adrian Ehrler, 15, joins his mother, Maribel Castro (far right) and his aunt, Nancy Castro (far left) to thanks Drs. Smith (second from left) and Zeltsman for performing his life-saving tracheal surgery .

New Hyde Park, NY -- “My life is a miracle and that’s a fact,” said Adrian Ehrler, the passionately devout 15-year-old boy who survived a series of nearly fatal medical events after being thrown from a horse this past July.

“I was always a fan of riding, and I’m very good at it,” he said. “But, on this day, my horse just stopped. And, when I fell off, I hit my head. That’s all I remember.”

That was the moment that forever changed Adrian’s life.

 His brother had to carry the unconscious Adrian to a car to race the injured rider to a local hospital, where it was discovered that he had sustained a traumatic brain injury.

The breathing tube used by Honduran doctors to keep Adrian alive proved to be too large, causing widespread scarring of his windpipe that compromised his breathing. His frightened mother, Maribel Castro, reached out to her sister, Nancy Castro, who lives in Woodside, Queens.

 “Aunt Nancy is an FDNY paramedic who told us to come to New York,” the thankful teen said.

One thing that Adrian remembered about his time in the Honduran hospital was the beautiful vision he experienced while in a coma.

“I knew I was in heaven….there were many, many people waiting on long lines,” he recalled. “When it was finally my turn to approach the front, I saw a beautiful angel. He was blond and very beautiful. He pointed at me and told me that it wasn’t my time yet. He told me I had to return and that I would suffer a lot more before all would be well at the end. At the time, I had no idea what that meant.”

When he arrived in New York on Aug. 15, Adrian truly was near death. His breathing was terribly difficult and he believed he was beginning to die. A few days later, on Aug. 19, Maribel Castro dialed 911 because her son was in distress. Nancy Castro, who was on duty as a paramedic, realized she was being dispatched to her own address and that her nephew was in trouble. The ambulance brought Adrian to the Emergency Department at Cohen. Thanks to her extensive training, Nancy was able to explain that Adrian’s difficulties stemmed from an inability to breathe.

Lee Smith, MD, Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology, was called in to evaluate Adrian. His examination revealed a windpipe with only a 2 mml opening, meaning Adrian was trying to force air through an opening smaller than 1/8 of an inch.

“Immediately, I inserted a small breathing tube to open Adrian’s airway,” said Dr. Smith. “We needed to get him stronger in order to do surgery.”

One day later, Dr. Smith worked with David Zeltsman, MD, Chief, Thoracic Surgery, Long Island Jewish Medical Center,  to perform a tracheal resection and reconstruction. During this complex three-hour surgery, Drs. Smith and Zeltsman removed the diseased tracheal tissue and part of the cricoids cartilage at the opening of the windpipe. Next, they carefully reconnected the voicebox to the healthy trachea to ensure that their patient’s speech would remain unaffected.

“The difficulty with all this is that we have to make sure that the voice box remains unaffected. If there is damage in any way, a patient like Adrian might lose the ability to speak.”

Finally, Adrian began to recover. Along with his renewed strength came an explanation of that beautiful vision he experienced while deep in a coma.

“Right after my surgery, I woke up to discover that my chin had been sewn to my chest. They told me this was done to avoid stress and strain on the new windpipe. I had to breathe and eat in this position for a week. Really, this was the worst part of the ordeal.”

Three months later, Adrian returned to the hospital with his mother and aunt to thank the two surgeons whom he refers to as “his heroes.” He understands that his complete recovery is nothing short of a miracle.

“I can tell you that there’s nothing better for me than to be able to take a deep breath, and to eat and walk normally again,” said Adrian. “What I have learned from this is that there is a plan for all of us. We have to pray very hard, just like my family did for me. I know that one day, I will return home and ride horses again. All of this is a miracle.”

At the end of their visit, Adrian confessed to his two surgeons that he had no idea how to adequately express his gratitude for the saving of his life.

Both doctors answered without missing a beat.

“Just take a deep breath,” they said.


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About the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York
Opened in 1983, the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York is home to about 675 pediatricians, including 200 full-time physicians, and a total workforce of more than 1,200, including more than 500 nurses. For the ninth consecutive year in 2015, CCMC was ranked among the best children’s hospitals in the nation in U.S. News & World Report's 2014-15 “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals” survey.





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