Delfina Martinez panicked when she looked out the open window of her Santa Ana apartment and saw her 3-year-old son, who had been playing in the living room moments earlier, sprawled on the pavement four stories below.
The 27-year-old single parent sprinted down the stairs, sure that when she reached Jose's motionless body, he would be dead. But as she cradled him in her arms, the boy started to stir and soon began crying and rubbing the bruises on his face.
In what doctors Wednesday were calling an amazing bit of luck--and what his mother has proclaimed a "miracle of God"--Jose Torres Martinez not only survived the 40-foot fall the day before but appears to have sustained no permanent damage despite landing head-first on the pavement.
Jose was listed in critical but improving condition Wednesday at United Western Medical Center-Santa Ana. A brain scan revealed no neurological damage, hospital spokeswoman Sue Delaney said, adding that the boy's injuries are limited to multiple facial fractures.
"He's very, very lucky," said Dr. Michael Ponaman, a physician who treated the boy in the medical center's pediatrics intensive-care unit. "I think the child will do well. I think the outcome will be a relatively happy one for the family."
Ponaman, who has treated other young victims of falls, said the same fall likely would have killed or incapacitated an adult. Adults' bones are more rigid and, consequently, prone to more serious injury in falls.
Ponaman said that children also tend to suffer less neurological damage from a fall because their brains are more "plastic" than an adult's, and able to absorb more shock. If one part of a child's brain is damaged, Ponaman explained, other areas are often able to compensate for the loss.
Delaney said that the medical center's doctors have treated numerous cases of children who have fallen, but "not (one) from four stories."
Said Martinez: "It is a miracle of God that my boy is not dead."
She said she had left Jose and his 1 1/2-year-old sister, Lorena, alone in the living room of her one-bedroom apartment--which she had just rented but not occupied--for just a moment Tuesday afternoon to use the bathroom.
When she returned, she found Lorena alone in the room and a window that was less than two feet above the floor open. The boy had apparently climbed onto the windowsill and fallen out, she said.
"I didn't see him anywhere," she said. "I happened to look out the window and I saw him laying down there. Then I ran outside."
Martinez and her mother, Juliamenta Martinez, 52, rode with Jose in the ambulance. All that night, as doctors worked feverishly on the boy in the emergency room, Delfina Martinez said that she and her mother prayed and worried.
The two women, joined later by other members of the family, maintained a vigil at the hospital until 10:30 p.m., when they left for the night. Delfina Martinez said she was unable to sleep much, though, and hurried back to the hospital the first thing Wednesday morning. A devoutly religious woman who says she faithfully attends Mass, she prayed that the news from the doctor Wednesday would be good.
"I thank God for saving my child," said Martinez as she embraced her infant daughter.
Santa Ana police officials Wednesday theorized that the boy climbed onto the sill and fell out through a loosly attached window screen, which fell to the ground along with the boy.
A representative from the Orange County Department of Social Services also investigated and was on hand Wendesday to help interpret for Martinez.
Martinez said she has no job and very little money and has to sleep on the floor with her children. She said that in 1981, she emigrated from the Mexican state of Guerrero to the California farming town of Salinas--to follow her mother and some other relatives--where she made about $200 a week cleaning house and baby-sitting.
She arrived in Santa Ana a week ago to again live with relatives and had just rented the one-bedroom apartment in the 600 block of North Garfield Street for herself, her parents and her two children. The $625-per-month apartment is on the top floor of a pinkish-stucco complex, which is marred by graffiti-strewn corridors and stairways.
Out of work because of what she describes as heavy competition in the job market, Martinez said her only certainty is that she will not be staying in the apartment where the accident occurred. She said she is arranging with her landlord to move into another apartment--on the ground floor.