Luis Rios survived 11 months in Afghanistan, serving in the U.S. Army. Of the 33 soldiers in his unit, three were killed. At least eight were badly injured by bullets or homemade bombs.
Rios was one of the lucky ones. He came back with barely a scratch.
So when he returned to his hometown of Brentwood in 2016, he figured he was good to go — back in a safe haven where his biggest worries would be getting a job, paying his bills, fighting traffic not terrorists.
That all changed one night in late July. Rios, 25, was getting a ride home from a co-worker at his moonlighting job as an event promoter at a nightclub in Queens. It was about 11:30 p.m. They were two blocks from Rios’s apartment in Brentwood. They pulled up to a stop sign.
Suffolk police said a gray van that had been tailgating Rios and his co-worker swerved in front of them and cut them off. Then two men got out, ran to Rios’s car and started yelling at them.
Rios tried to get out of the passenger seat, but before he could one the men started hitting him with a crowbar through the open window. Rios said he had no idea why he and his friend were assaulted.
“First I felt two blows to my face. I didn’t know what was going on,” Rios said Friday at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. By the third blow, he realized he was getting assaulted with a crowbar, as blood ran down his face.
“I was dizzy,” he recalled. “I felt like I couldn’t really see.”
After a fourth blow, the two attackers left. Rios’s friend — horrified by what had happened to him — told him not to look down.
Rios did anyway.
“I noticed I didn’t that have a nose anymore,” Rios recalled. “A large amount of my nose was missing, and just hanging.”
Where a large part of his nose once sat, there was now a hole. He was bleeding profusely.
His friend, who also was assaulted though not as severely, drove him to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, and “on the way there I contemplated whether I was going to make it or not,” Rios said.
At the hospital, a dozen medical personnel surrounded him immediately to stop the bleeding. They put staples in his head where he had been struck, and temporarily sewed up his nose as best they could.
Six hours later, he was released, and told to follow up with a surgeon at Northwell Health. He could not breathe through his nose, and could not smell.
Two days later at North Shore University Hospital, Dr. James Bradley, vice chair of its department of surgery, took on the case.
There was one problem, besides the complexity of reconstructing Rios’s nose. He had no health insurance since the glove factory in Bohemia where he works full time does not offer it, and he didn’t have the tens of thousands of dollars the surgeries and treatment would cost.
Northwell, which runs North Shore, agreed to do the job pro bono.
“He served our country. He served us. Now it’s our chance to serve him,” Northwell President and CEO Michael Dowling told Bradley.
Rios underwent two surgeries. It was not easy, Bradley said Friday. Doctors took out part of his ribs to help reconstruct the nose.
On Friday, Rios returned to the hospital to thank the doctors and administrators. It was National Day of the Deployed, which is set aside to honor the sacrifices of deployed members of the military and their families.
“I’m very honored to be here, especially representing all my fellow service members in every branch of the military,” Rios said at a news conference Friday. “I have an immense amount of gratitude.”
So does his mother, Maribel Taborda, who emigrated to the United States from Colombia and later brought her son here when he was 8 years old. She thanked the hospital as well.
He has one more procedure left, cosmetic surgery to try to make his nose look as normal as possible.
He and his family remain in shock that Luis could survive the warfare of Afghanistan unscathed, only to be brutally attacked two blocks from his home. Suffolk police said no arrests had been made in the case, which remained under investigation.
“In one minute the life of a person, a family can change,” Taborda said in Spanish. “It is hard to accept that."
Rios too remains stunned.
In Afghanistan, “every day you are on the lookout,” he said. “Every day you are like, you know, ‘Is this going to be my last day, or is it not?’”
“When you get back home, you are home, exactly that, and you let your guard down, because you don’t expect things like this to happen,” he said. “I was just going home, going home from work.”