By Tom Momberg
A near-fatal horseback accident in Honduras that left Adrian Ehrler, 15, with a damaged windpipe and brain trauma turned into a miraculous medical success story after he came to Queens to seek better corrective care.
Ehrler, who has a love for horseback riding and horse jumping competition, was carried a half mile by his brother after the accident, seeking medical attention.
Doctors in his home country inserted a breathing tube down the young man’s windpipe as they treated him while he was comatose for his injuries. But the breathing tube they used was too large, causing severe damage to Ehrler’s trachea and eventually compromising his breathing.
Ehrler’s mom, Maribel Castro, reached out to her sister Nancy Castro, an FDNY paramedic from Woodside, and came to stay with her as he recovered under the care of different physicians.
When Ehrler’s family arrived in the city on Aug. 15, they said he was having severe difficulty breathing and was near death.
“The worst part of my whole life was not being able to breathe. Now, day after day I can breathe a deep breath and it feels great,” Ehrler said. “People don’t value things until they don’t have them, and that’s a great lesson to have had.”
Discharged from a hospital twice when doctors found no problems with his breathing, the young man was recovering at his aunt’s house until Aug. 19 when his throat nearly closed and his mother called 9-1-1. Nancy Castro was on duty at the time, and was dispatched to assist her nephew.
She took him to the emergency center at North Shore LIJ’s Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, where doctors said Ehrler received life-saving surgery.
North Shore LIJ Division of Pediatric Otolaryngology Chief Dr. Lee Smith was the first one called in to evaluate Ehrler.
“His survival is miraculous and against the odds, in that if he had been treated in a different way, it could have gone in a very different direction,” Smith said. “He is very fortunate to have achieved the result he had.”
Ehrler’s windpipe had become elongated and narrow from the poor care he received initially, which Smith and LIJ Thoracic Surgery Chief Dr. David Zeltsman said made the reconstruction of the trachea and bronchus unique and very difficult.
The doctors said the cooperation of the pediatrics and rehabilitation departments with the Intensive Care Unit at North Shore LIJ was what really made the surgery successful. Smith and Zeltsman said the reconstruction of the Hondurans teen’s cartilage and airway was done completely naturally, without artificial grafts.
The hospital sees about 70 similar cases a year, but “every single case is different,” Zeltsman said. “And we really worked across specialties to be able to do this.”
If Ehrler had gone into another hospital’s care, Smith said even if he had survived, he may have had a severe detriment to his quality of life. Even doctors at Cohen considered administering a tracheotomy.
“That’s a very poor quality-of-life intervention and that’s a big deal. People don’t want to spend the rest of their lives with a breathing tube in their neck,” Smith said.
Ehrler is continuing to stay at his aunt’s house as he undergoes outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy, but he said he cannot wait to fly back home and continue going to school. He is in the ninth grade.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb