10/26/2007

Fla. deputy makes 'miraculous' recovery from gunshot to head

By Macollvie Jean-Francois
The Sun-Sentinel

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. Deputy Maury Hernandez wasn't expected to make it through the night after a bullet pierced his skull and put him in a coma.

With 45-caliber bullet fragments still lodged in his head, Hernandez, 28, walked into a crowded news conference Thursday at Memorial Regional Hospital, wearing his crisp though baggy white and green Broward Sheriff's Office uniform and gleaming badge. A large scar on the right side of his head marked how close he came to death.

"I'm very honored. I don't think I deserve all this," Hernandez said, drawing laughter from his admirers. "It humbles me to realize that there are people out there that I haven't ever met who are praying for me. That's impacting squared."

He clutched a cane with his right hand, his left arm was in a sling and his left leg trembled with every small, short step. A physical therapist held on to his left side, guiding him.

"I've always had the mentality of working hard, of pushing myself as hard as possible and the rest would take care of itself," Hernandez said in a clear, at times halting, speech.

Despite his fragile condition, dozens of deputies and hospital staff members who crammed the room clapped and cheered at the deputy's feat, 80 days after the near-fatal shooting.

Hernandez is expected to be released today, his family said.

"He has had essentially a miraculous recovery," said Dr. Luis Rodriguez, a neurosurgeon who treated Hernandez. "This is something that we never thought would happen when we first saw him."

Hernandez has been in the hospital since Aug. 6, the day a motorcyclist shot him during a traffic stop in Hollywood. The bullet's fragments traveled to the back of his head, damaging part of the right side of his brain, Rodriguez said.

The accused gunman, David Maldonado, 24, is at the Broward County Main Jail, charged with attempted murder of a law enforcement officer.

Hernandez declined to discuss events leading to the shooting because it is under investigation. That August day, hundreds of law enforcement officers scoured the Pembroke Road area where the shooting occurred, looking for the suspect, then rushed to the hospital to comfort Hernandez's parents, wife and brother, Hallandale Beach Police Officer Josue Hernandez.

"As soon as he got out of surgery and I heard there was a small chance of survival, that's all I needed to hear," Josue Hernandez said. "He's the strongest person I know."

The recovery was gradual as the weeks passed, his doctors say. He started by wiggling his finger. Then his hands and feet moved. Before long, he was able to give a "thumbs up" in response to questions.

Dr. Alan Novick, medical director of rehabilitation for the Memorial Healthcare System, said the progress surprised him and other doctors who initially gave bleak prognoses.

"I'd come in every day and he showed how much stronger he got," Novick said. "I'd say, 'Thank you for proving me wrong.' "

Besides the around-the-clock support provided by Hernandez's family and colleagues, learning of Broward Sheriff's Sgt. Chris Reyka's shooting, within days of his own, also motivated him, the young deputy said. Reyka was working the night shift Aug. 10 when he was fatally shot at a Pompano Beach pharmacy. Authorities have yet to make an arrest.

"It was like, 'Hey, don't you dare complain,' " Hernandez said. "It really put my situation in perspective."

Sheriff Al Lamberti, who sat near Hernandez's parents and brother, called the deputy a hero.

"I don't consider myself that," said Hernandez. "I was just doing my job."

Hernandez, a five-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, said that as soon as physically possible, he'd like to return to his regular job as an undercover detective with the Sheriff Office's Selective Enforcement Team. His doctors say that is a possibility, if Hernandez continues to regain his physical abilities in the months ahead.

"It's very realistic," Novick said. "He can return to gainful employment. Right now, his work is concentrating on recovery."

Hernandez undergoes physical, speech and other rehabilitative therapies for three to five hours daily, Novick said.

Rodriguez said although Hernandez remains partially paralyzed on his left side, a 100 percent recovery is possible.

Lamberti said, "We'll find him something that he could do" when he's ready to return to work.

Sheriff's Maj. Kyle Berwick was among the officers who watched proudly as Hernandez walked into, then out of, the room. He sniffled.

"You watch these officers put their lives on the line every day," Berwick said. "We're thrilled that somebody could go through this and recover. It's touching."

Copyright 2007 Sun-Sentinel

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