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Brentwood boy's 'miraculous' recovery amazes family, therapists

TJ Maldonado, left, helps finish a puzzle with

TJ Maldonado, left, helps finish a puzzle with his 14-year-old brother Donny after Donny's arrival back home after months of surgery and rehab, following a life-threatening car accident, on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. Credit: Johnny Milano

As his older brother watched, Donovan Maldonado shot a basketball at the hoop outside his Brentwood home. Swish.

“One shot, 2,000 points!” he exclaimed Thursday.

Eight months ago, few thought moments like this would be possible again.

After being struck by a car while walking in his neighborhood, Maldonado, a 14-year-old known as “Donny,” couldn’t move his limbs or talk.

Emergency room doctors told the family to prepare for the worst. The Jan. 12 crash shattered the teenager’s spleen, causing serious internal bleeding. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury.

After a month in a coma, surgeries and months of grueling rehabilitation, Maldonado astonished his own medical team by returning home this week to cheers and balloons.

He still requires therapy to address tremors on his right side, lapses in his short-term memory and other ailments. But family members are overjoyed at the extent of his recovery.

“It’s a miracle. This kid was on his deathbed,” said Maldonado’s godfather, Jason Rivera, 42, of Bay Shore.

Rivera shot a video of Maldonado proclaiming “I’m home finally” as he stepped out of an SUV, a basketball in his hand.

Before the crash, he was an eighth-grader at Brentwood North Middle School known for his sharp wit, with a passion for Minecraft video games, “Star Wars” and “The Avengers.”

Those interests were suddenly interrupted when the car hit him shortly after 3 p.m. near Washington Avenue and Franklin Street.

Laura Garces-Maldonado, 37, said her son was walking home from school, less than 100 feet from their house.

A neighbor called her at work in Queens and then got word to her husband, Matt Maldonado, 43. He was at home with the couple’s oldest son, T.J., now 17, and hadn’t heard the crash.

Suffolk police said the driver wasn’t charged in the accident.

An officer who took Maldonado to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, told the father to pray for his son. So did the doctors.

“When a doctor is telling you to start praying for your child, you know it’s really serious,” Garces-Maldonado said.

She drove to Southside from her office manager job and never went back, focusing her energy on her son’s treatment.

Garces-Maldonado spent countless hours at his bedside. She read aloud books, including volumes from “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series and “The Hobbit.” The sound of church music filled the room.

While the family held vigil and Maldonado made slow progress, the community responded. Maldonado’s math teacher visited him in the hospital. A GoFundMe page raised more than $27,000 toward the family’s expenses.

In June, there was a breakthrough.

On the way from a rehabilitation facility in Westchester to his neurosurgeon, Maldonado made an “ahh” sound — signaling a major step toward recovering his ability to speak.

He received more speech therapy at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside, Queens, along with occupational and physical therapy. He learned to dress again and take a shower by himself after two months at St. Mary’s.

Physical therapist Lauren Puccio said she was amazed when the patient managed to walk without assistance.

“He’s shown a great ability to recover ... very miraculous,” she said.

To help the family prepare for the return home, local businesses donated railings for the front steps and bathroom safety bars. Matt Maldonado sanded floors inside the home to make it easier for his son to walk.

Another Pray 4 Donny benefit will be held at 6 p.m. Friday at Brentwood High School. Scheduled performers include EPMD, a rap group from Brentwood.

The boy’s mother is grateful for the community support, but she’s convinced a higher power saved her son.

“I don’t believe he would here if it wasn’t for the prayers,” she said.

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