January 4, 2008, New York Times, Miraculous Recovery for Man Who Fell 47 Floors, by James Barron.
Alcides Moreno plunged 47 stories that morning last month, clinging to his 3-foot-wide window washers platform as it shot down the dark glass face of an Upper East Side apartment building. His brother Edgar, who had been working with him on the platform, was killed.
Somehow, Alcides Moreno survived.
He was given roughly 24 pints of blood and 19 pints of plasma and underwent an operation to open his abdomen in the emergency room because, his doctor said, they did not want to risk moving him to an operating room. As December went on, he endured nine orthopedic operations.
Yet somehow, Alcides Moreno, the man who fell from the sky, survived.
In his hospital room, amid all the machines that helped keep him alive, his wife, Rosario, lifted his hand again and again to stroke her face and her hair, hoping against hope that a simple tactile sensation would remind him, would help bring him back.
Then on Christmas Day, Alcides Moreno reached out and stroked the wrong face.
Apparently he tried to do it to one of the nurses, Rosario Moreno said on Thursday, describing how she chided him, gently, when she was told what had happened. I looked at him and said, Youre not supposed to do that. Im your wife, you touch your wife.
For the first time since the accident on Dec. 7, he spoke.
He turned around and, in English, said, What did I do? she said. It stunned me because I didnt know he could speak.
Surrounded by doctors who had helped save her husband, Mrs. Moreno told her story at a press conference at which medical professionals with long years of experience in treating traumatic injuries used words like miraculous and unprecedented to describe something that seems remarkable: a man who fell nearly 500 feet into a Manhattan alleyway is now talking and, with a little more luck, a few more operations and some rehabilitation therapy, may well walk again.
If you are a believer in miracles, this would be one, said Dr. Philip S. Barie, the chief of the division of critical care at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, where Mr. Moreno, 37, is being treated.
We are very pleased dare I say astonished? at the level of recovery that this patient has enjoyed so far, he added, and although there is more work to be done, we are very optimistic for his prospects for survival.
Optimistic though they were, the doctors tempered their discussion of Mr. Morenos prospects with some pragmatism. He will undergo surgery today to stabilize his spine. Sometime after that, he faces another orthopedic operation. Then there will be long months in rehabilitation.
But they predicted that his recovery would be complete in about a year.
Asked at the press conference whether Mr. Moreno would walk again, Dr. Barie said, We believe so, yes. He noted that Mr. Morenos pelvis had not been injured in the fall. Dr. Barie also said that all the injuries to Mr. Morenos legs some 10 fractures had been repaired except one.
Our goal is not just survival, but functional survival, he said.
Still, Dr. Barie suggested that Mr. Moreno had taken the team treating him into largely uncharted medical territory. Dr. Barie said Mr. Morenos medical team had had no experience with someone who had fallen so far. He said that falls from even three stories can be fatal if the victim hits his or her head on landing.
Above 10 stories, most of the time we never see the patients because they usually go to the morgue, Dr. Barie said, though he added that the staff at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell had treated and had written a medical journal article about a patient who survived a 19-story fall, less than half the distance Mr. Moreno fell.
This is right up there with those anecdotes of people falling out of airplanes and surviving, people whose parachutes dont open and somehow they manage to survive, Dr. Barie said in an interview after the press conference. Were talking about tiny, tiny percentages, well under 1 percent, of people who fall that distance and survive.
But Mr. Moreno, of Linden, N.J., confounded the odds from the beginning. He was sitting up when firefighters arrived at the building, the Solow Tower, at 265 East 66th Street. He was on the borderline of consciousness when he was wheeled into the emergency room, Dr. Barie said, despite serious injuries to his brain, his spine, his chest and his abdomen, along with several fractured ribs, a broken right arm and two broken legs.
Mrs. Moreno said her husbands determination had not vanished that day. If anything, he keeps me going, she said.
A moment later she added: He wants to go to rehab. He wants to start walking. She also said she had told him he was not going back to his old job.
She said their three children ages 14, 8 and 6 had visited their father, the two younger children only once. She said she had wanted to show them that Mommy wasnt lying and that unlike Edgar, hes alive.
Mrs. Moreno said her husband apparently knew all along that his brother had died. She said that she did not tell him, but he mentioned it on Tuesday night. He doesnt remember much about that day other than his brother passed, she said.
A full explanation for how the man survived, while his brother died, remained elusive. One theory is that Edgar Moreno, 30, was thrown from the platform as it sped toward the ground. One official who was at the scene said that part of Edgar Morenos body was under the platform when rescuers arrived. But Dr. Barie also noted that Alcides Moreno had landed without striking his head.
Mrs. Moreno was asked more than once at the press conference why she believed her husband had survived. He was trained, she said He knew what to do with the platform meaning, according to other window washers, lie flat and ride it down.
But she also hinted that he was all too aware of the risks of the job. Even knowing about his brother, not a tear came down, and they were very close, she said. They lived together. They did everything together.
Mrs. Moreno said she did not know if her husband and brother-in-law had been worried about the safety of their scaffold that day. After the accident, another family member who is also a window washer, Jose Cumbicos, said they had mentioned their misgivings in a telephone call that morning. Mr. Cumbicos also said that the Morenos supervisor had reassured them, saying a mechanical problem with their rig had been taken care of.
At least three agencies are investigating the accident.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company