Belmont man survives 100 foot plunge

Jacobi saved the life of one Bronx resident after a horrific accident left him worried he would never walk again.

Bartolome Bonilla was vacationing in the Dominican Republic during the holiday season, when on the morning of Friday, December 26, a slick road sent the vehicle he was driving tumbling down a 100 foot cliff, while traveling to Bonao.

Bonilla and four friends were trapped in the vehicle; with Bonilla conscious during the two-hour wait for a rescue team to arrive.

After being transferred to a local hospital, Bonilla was informed that he had sustained very serous spinal injuries from the crash, rendering him nearly paralyzed.

“First, I thanked God I was alive,” said the Arthur Avenue resident. “But the doctors told me I had suffered a very serious spinal injury. I was almost completely paralyzed. From that moment, I knew that somehow, I had to get back home, where I could get the best medical and surgical care possible.”

Bonilla and his wife, Elfeida, sought help through the American Embassy to arrange for transportation back to the Bronx, a very elaborate issue considering Bonilla’s medical condition. An air ambulance service carried him over 1,500 miles to Kennedy Airport, where he arrived on Tuesday, January 6.

From there, Bonilla was transported by helicopter to Jacobi Medical Center, and admitted into the Surgical Intensive Care Unit.

Dr. Nathaniel Tindel, Chief of Spinal Surgery at Jacobi and Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine reviewed the case.

“As a spinal surgeon at a busy trauma center, you never take anything for granted. When I heard about his injuries through the translator from his doctor in the Dominican Republic, I thought, how could he have survived this terrible accident? After being briefed on his medical condition and injuries, I knew if we could get him to Jacobi safely, we could give him every chance he’d ever have of recovering from this accident,” the doctor said.

According to Tindel, Bonilla had sustained a dislocation and burst fracture in two locations of the thoracic spine, leading to surgery that would take over five hours and require the installation of several metal rods and screws to realign his shattered vertebrae and protect his spinal cord.

Bonilla was transferred to Jacobi’s Acute Rehabilitation unit on Thursday, January 15, to receive daily occupational and physical therapy.

Bonilla exceeded expectations during recovery, strengthening his muscles, helping him to walk and move objects, as well as relearn daily activities such as climbing stairs, getting in and out of bed, and getting dressed so he could return to independence.

“To his credit, he exceeded our expectations and is experiencing a wonderful recovery. The spinal cord is particularly sensitive to injury. When it is injured, it is resistant to recovery,” said Tindel. “Mr. Bonilla’s recovery is not something we see regularly in patients with injuries as severe as his.”

Bonila will continue to receive outpatient rehab from home, but can now get out of bed and into his wheelchair unattended, and is able to walk with some support over short distances. Bonilla was discharged from Jacobi on Wednesday, February 11.

“Everyday since my accident, I thank God for two things,” said Bonilla. “The first is for the fact that I survived. The second is for the ‘angels’ at Jacobi, who have helped to give me back my life.”

Bartolome, Bonilla

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