Sat, Jan 05, 2008 - Page 16 News List

The man who fell from the sky

Alcides Moreno, who plunged 152m into a Manhattan alleyway last month, is now talking and, with a little more luck, a few more operations and some rehabilitation therapy, may well walk again

By James Barron  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Alcides Moreno, top, fell 47 stories clinging to his 90cm-wide window washer's platform as it slid down the dark glass face of an Upper East Side apartment building

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Alcides Moreno plunged 47 stories that morning last month, clinging to his 91cm-wide window washer's 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 11 liters of blood and 9 liters 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 Moreno, 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, 'You're not supposed to do that. I'm 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 didn't know he could speak."

Surrounded by doctors who had helped save her husband, Rosario Moreno told her story at a news 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 152m 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 Philip Barie, the chief of the division of critical care at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, where Alcides 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 Moreno's prospects with some pragmatism. He was to undergo surgery yesterday 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 Moreno would walk again, Barie said, "We believe so, yes." He noted that Moreno's pelvis had not been injured in the fall. Barie also said that all the injuries to Moreno's legs - some 10 fractures - had been "repaired" except one.

"Our goal is not just survival, but functional survival," he said.

Still, Barie suggested that Moreno had taken the team treating him into largely uncharted medical territory. Barie said Moreno's 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.

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