Recovery’s at arm’s length for pastor

ON THE MEND—The Rev. Andrew Garcia at home recovering after undergoing surgery to reattach his left arm. Courtesy photo

ON THE MEND—The Rev. Andrew Garcia at home recovering after undergoing surgery to reattach his left arm. Courtesy photo

For the Rev. Andrew Garcia, being able to hold his children is a miracle.

The husband and father of two was getting ready for his daughter’s sixth birthday party at First Baptist Church of Thousand Oaks on Oct. 29, 2016, when he lost his balance and fell through a large window. The shattered glass cut through the pastor’s arm, nearly amputating it at the elbow. Only the bone remained attached.

Gushing blood, Garcia managed to call 911, and a good Samaritan helped him apply pressure to the wound until paramedics arrived.

He was rushed to Los Robles Hospital, and after a seven-hour surgery, four blood transfusions and countless stitches, he began the long road to recovery with all his limbs intact.

After more than a year of occupational therapy and multiple surgeries to correct nerve damage, Garcia has limited use of his left hand. Despite an ongoing struggle with regional pain, the executive pastor of the 100-member congregation on Erbes Road is on the mend.

“I knew God’s hand was in it, not just saving my life but everything after,” the 35-year-old said.

Dr. Kouros Azar is the Westlake Village-based physician who performed the reattachment. A plastic surgeon by trade, Azar has experience in reattaching fingers and limbs as well as complex reconstruction cases, which uniquely qualified him to treat Garcia’s devastating injury.

“My part requires a certain experience and attention to detail not everybody has,” he said.

Even after the arm was put back into place, Garcia was not guaranteed a full recovery, Azar said.

He’d severed his median nerve, which controls the muscles in the fingers, and sliced through blood vessels, veins and arteries. He also cut all the muscles and tendons, as well.

“It’s like killing the computer in your car and the engine,” the surgeon said. “You need an engine to make the car move but you also need a computer to control the engine.”

Exceeding all of Azar’s expectations, Garcia estimates he’s regained 60 to 70 percent of the strength and function in his left hand.

A man of science, Azar said Garcia’s faith played an important role in maintaining a positive attitude during his long recovery.

“That’s more than half the battle,” he said. “You can’t have that kind of recovery with the wrong attitude.”

Joseph Garlock was one of the firefighter paramedics who responded to Garcia’s fall and applied the tourniquet that saved his life.

About six months after the accident, he ran into Garcia while performing a fire safety inspection at the church’s preschool.

Garlock described the reunion as emotional.

“We see so many patients, it’s not often we get to see the outcome,” he said. “He was just happy to be alive.”

Garlock said he was surprised to learn the extent to which Garcia had regained function in his left arm.

“I’m not a surgeon but from the injury I saw, I would say it’s a miracle,” he said. “He’s going to have his arm to pick up his kids and to do the everyday tasks we take for granted.”

Garcia said the chance encounter gave him a opportunity to thank the men who saved his life.

“I was filled with joy,” he said.

Gloria Cooper works as Garcia’s office assistant. She said the church stood to lose a lot more than their executive pastor when Garcia got hurt. He also serves as the principal of First Baptist Accelerated Academy, a 60-student school that operates on the church’s campus.

Cooper said that throughout his recovery, her boss never indulged in self-pity. Instead, he used the opportunity to encourage others to lean on the Lord.

“The miracle is that he is even still here with us,” Cooper said. “God has a something for him. We don’t know exactly what, but something miraculous will come out of this.”

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