On May 11, Ed Navarro was relaxing on the water off Elliot Key near Key Biscayne with two longtime friends and their sons after a morning of fishing – a hobby he’s enjoyed since childhood.
“We’d made some good catches,” recalled Navarro, 55. “We were cooling off and talking about our plans for the rest of the weekend before heading back to the dock.”
It’s the last thing he remembers before waking up in the hospital. Only later would he learn that a near collision with a speeding boat had tossed him overboard, where he immediately went into cardiac arrest.
“My buddies found me face down in the water, and when they pulled me back onto the boat, I had foam coming out of my nose and mouth, and I had no pulse,” Navarro said. “One friend, Dr. Jose Escalante, who is a cardiologist, began performing CPR as the others frantically contacted Miami-Dade Fire Rescue with urgent pleas for help.”
Navarro was immediately airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson South Medical Center.
Slipping in and out of consciousness, Navarro vaguely remembers seeing his wife and the family’s priest by his side. When he woke up the next day, he couldn’t feel his hands or legs.
“I couldn’t speak because I was intubated, but I knew I had damaged my spinal cord and that time was of the essence in treating it,” Navarro said.
The attending physician, Ian Côté, MD, UHealth – University of Miami Health System neurosurgeon, realized Navarro was having difficulty moving and requested an emergency MRI. It confirmed the presence of a cervical spinal cord injury. This was the result of the rapid force applied to Navarro’s neck and already narrowed spinal canal, the home of the spinal cord.
“He was essentially a quadriplegic,” Dr. Côté said. “We immediately brought him to the operating room, and relieved the pressure on his spinal cord by reconstructing the affected area.”
An emergency cervical open-door laminoplasty was performed by Dr. Côté along with neurosurgery resident, Javier Figueroa, MD, and neurosurgery APRN, Michelle Viteri. In this operation, the lamina is reconstructed, creating a wider spinal canal and permitting blood flow to be reestablished to the spinal cord. Navarro was given a neck brace to wear following the procedure.
“I took my first steps under the care of a physical therapist by the name of Sean Brimacombe,” Navarro recalls. “He is a mountain of a man and has a heart to match; he truly cared and encouraged me, and just 24 hours after surgery, I took my first steps – it was a miracle.”
Navarro knew recovery would be difficult, but he also knew he was in good hands. Every day, he saw firsthand how committed Jackson is to making sure its patients receive the care, compassion, and kindness they need to recover and live better lives.
“The surgical team, the entire staff at Jackson South was wonderful,” Navarro said. “And the life-changing treatment continued when I was transferred to Jackson Rehabilitation Hospital, where I began inpatient rehab just one week after surgery.”
Other Jackson staff, including Navarro’s primary occupational therapists Rachel Hessen, Sandy Nieves, and Luis Benitez, along with speech therapist, Stephane Philippe-Ratway, worked with him to relearn day-to-day tasks.
“They taught me how to use my hands again so I could do things like brush my teeth, dress myself, type and use a mouse, and create spreadsheets,” he said. “And they did it in a very loving and nurturing way. Everyone was very gentle and kind.”
After nearly three weeks in inpatient rehab, Navarro was discharged to continue his recovery efforts as an outpatient. Though he will have to continue his therapies for some months ahead, his prognosis is good – he even went back to work on July 19, just 39 days after the accident.
“What’s really made the difference in my recovery is the care that I have received,” Navarro said. “And not just the level and quality of care, but the loving care from the entire staff that I continue to receive. I’m getting stronger every day.”
Navarro has since been cleared by Dr. Côté to remove his neck brace, and made a promise to him and his medical staff that he will run a 5k this November in collaboration with The Woody Foundation to inspire other individuals with spinal cord injuries.