Even in the wake of a terrifying accident, Pablo Hernandez’s first concern was for others. During the summer, the 9-year-old and his 3-year-old brother, Joandy, were riding an all-terrain vehicle when Pablo lost control and slid under a parked tractor trailer.
Despite serious injuries, including a near-amputation of his left arm, Pablo held firmly to his younger brother’s hand as he ran the short distance to his home.
“I was worried Joandy was hurt and I wanted to make sure he wasn’t scared,” Pablo said.
Despite the pain, he comforted others
Juan Hernandez will never forget the day his boys came running up to their front porch, where he was enjoying the summer day.
“I immediately saw how hurt Pablo was. It broke my heart,” he said. “Then when their mother saw them, she was very upset. But Pablo kept telling her not to cry—saying he was going to be OK. He didn’t drop a tear. He was so strong.”
Within minutes, ambulances arrived. Joandy, whose injuries were less severe, was taken to a hospital near their Forsyth County home where he was released within hours. Pablo was transported to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta—home to the only two pediatric trauma centers in Georgia.
Doctors collaborated to restore his arm
Pediatric surgeon Matthew Clifton, M.D., was serving his first night as an attending physician when Pablo was rushed into the Children’s at Egleston Emergency Department.
“I got the trauma alert and knew there was a child coming in with a near-amputation of his arm,” Dr. Clifton said. “My job was to make sure I did everything I could for him and make sure he got all the care he needed.”
After performing a trauma assessment in the Emergency Department, Dr. Clifton and his team took Pablo to an operating room, where they could take a better look at his arm.
“He had 60 to 70 percent soft tissue loss in the area around his elbow. He also had a bad fracture in the lower part of his arm,” he said.
Because Pablo’s radial nerve—one of three nerves connected to the hand—was severed, there was a chance he would have to undergo a full amputation. But his team of doctors, which included pediatric orthopaedic surgeon Timothy Oswald, M.D., and Linda Cendales, M.D., Director of the Hand Transplant Program at Emory University School of Medicine, along with Dr. Clifton, worked hard to save his arm.
“It was a very severe injury, and there was definitely a chance he could lose his arm,” Dr. Cendales said. “We knew he had a lot of reconstruction ahead. But first we wanted to save the limb and restore the best function we could.”
Laughter helped him cope
When Juan and his wife, Maria, arrived at Children’s, Pablo was already in surgery.
“The first time I saw him, he had just gotten out of surgery. He was asleep and he had all these tubes attached to him. That’s when I finally broke down. It was so hard to see him like that,” he said.
When he awoke, Pablo tried to remain upbeat, but was worried he would not be able to return to his favorite activities.
“The doctors and nurses were very good at making him feel better,” Juan said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Though he missed his family and friends, Pablo liked the staff and atmosphere at Children’s.
“The doctors and nurses made me laugh and that made me happy,” he said. “I also like that the hospital is so big and has all these cool things, like the fish and lots of elevators.”
With hard work, he gains new hope
Pablo underwent three surgeries, including a graft where Dr. Cendales took a piece of nerve from his leg to repair the breach in his radial nerve. He then began outpatient rehabilitation to work on regaining function in his arm.
“We do a lot of exercises for his shoulder and elbow. I try to make everything fun and functional for him. Pablo is a really hard worker,” said David Farthing, an occupational therapist at Children’s who works weekly with Pablo.
Pablo currently wears a dynamic extension splint, which helps him fully extend his fingers. Pablo’s father is thrilled with the progress his son is making in therapy.
“David is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He’s done an unbelievable job at making my son feel like a new kid,” Juan said. “Pablo really enjoys going and he is improving every day. There are no words to describe how I feel about Children’s. I will be grateful for the rest of my life for everyone who helped my son.”
Pablo is back in school, thriving in the third grade. He is excited to make his way back to soccer—his favorite activity. And the spirit of selflessness is still evident when Pablo talks about what he wants to be when he gets older.
“I want to be in the Army,” he said.“Because I can be strong and I can save the world.”