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Teen from Honduras recovers from windpipe surgery at LI hospital

Honduran native Adrian Ehrler is shown riding a

Honduran native Adrian Ehrler is shown riding a horse in Honduras in this undated photo. The 15-year-old survived a near-fatal horseback-riding accident on July 16, 2015, that left him with a traumatic brain injury. Photo Credit: Courtesy Ehrler Family

Adrian Ehrler saw heaven and survived something close to hell.

The 15-year-old, an avid horseman, on July 16 suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma 16 days after a horse fell on him in his native Honduras.

At one point, he said Thursday at a news conference at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, he had an elaborate vision of heaven in which he met a huge, handsome man who waved his finger indicating he wasn't to enter. Then he heard voices telling him he "had to go back and suffer a little more."

And that he did.

A month after the accident, he was staying in Woodside, Queens, with his aunt, Nancy Castro, an FDNY paramedic, waiting to start therapy for his brain injury.

But on Aug. 19, Adrian's mother, Maribel Castro, called 911 when her son suddenly couldn't breathe.

Nancy Castro had only 15 minutes until the end of her shift, but she realized the call was coming from her address. She rushed home and stabilized her anxious nephew with oxygen and then had him taken to Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

There, Dr. Lee Smith, chief of Cohen's division of pediatric otolaryngology, which specializes in ear, nose and throat disorders, saw that Adrian's windpipe was severely constricted by scarring -- probably from an oversized breathing tube inserted down his throat in his native Honduras.

The doctor said Adrian's windpipe was only 2 millimeters, narrowed by 95 percent.

"It was tiny, tiny," he said.

One option would have been to perform a tracheotomy, inserting a breathing tube directly into his windpipe. But, he said, that could have left him permanently disabled and would have made subsequent operations more difficult.

So the decision was made to take out the large piece of scarred tissue -- about 3 centimeters long, or 13/16 inches -- and to repair the cartilage near his voice box.

He and Dr. David Zeltsman, chief of thoracic surgery at LIJ, who together performed the 31/2-hour operation, said the difficult part of such a surgery, especially in a child, is to make sure not to remove so much tissue that the trachea can't be rejoined.

"Fortunately, it was very doable," Zeltsman said.

After that began what Adrian said was the hardest part: For a week, his chin was literally stitched to his chest to avoid strain on the windpipe.

But two months later, he is able to breathe, talk and eat with no problems.

After inpatient rehabilitation at St. Mary's Hospital for Children in Bayside for several weeks, most of his symptoms from his injury -- dizziness, headaches, weakness on one side -- have diminished.

He still is receiving outpatient therapy, and it's unclear when the 9th grader will return to his family in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.

But the deeply religious teen said he is grateful to be alive, and feeling as well as he is.

"This is a miracle," he said in fluent English. "I'm not supposed to be talking. I am supposed to be dependent."

Asked if he would ride again, he smiled and answered very clearly: "Yes."

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