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Boy, 6, swallowed by sand dune expected to recover, doctors say

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The 6-year-old boy who spent more than three hours trapped under 11 feet of sand is expected to recover with only mild lung injuries, doctors at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital said Monday.

Nathan Woessner was rescued Friday after being swallowed by a sand dune at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on the Lake Michigan shore in Michigan City.

Physicians “expect a full recovery or a close-to-full recovery of his neurological functions,” but they “are not sure what his long-term lung injury is going to be” due to the high volume of sand Nathan ingested during his harrowing ordeal, Dr. Tracy Koogler said at a Monday news conference.

“We know that when you have foreign bodies in your lungs, your lungs can have some chronic” issues, she said, adding that Nathan may come down with mild asthma or “wheezing” issues.

Koogler said Nathan is expected to be up and moving by the end of the week and discharged from the hospital in the next 10 to 14 days. He will then need a month in rehab “depending on what everything looks like,” she said.

Pastor Don Reul, Nathan’s grandfather, told reporters Monday that Nathan was with his father and two family friends Friday when he was entrapped in the dune.

“Nathan stepped in a sinkhole and disappeared out of sight,” Reul said. “He was nowhere to be seen. The ground had swallowed him up.”

A 911 call obtained by NBC News reveals that the boy’s father and a family friend attempted to dig out Nathan before emergency personnel arrived.

“But as they dug, he just went deeper and deeper,” Reul said, adding that Nathan plunged standing up.

Rescue crews were called to the scene shortly after 4:30 p.m. local time, said ranger Bruce Rowe, a spokesman for the National Park Service. It took them more than three hours of digging on the western slopes of Mount Baldy to rescue him.

Two private excavating companies joined with La Porte County emergency workers, Northern Indiana Public Service Co. workers and National Park Service officers to wrench the boy out of the sand.

The boy was finally recovered around 8:05 p.m.

“When they found Nathan he was cold and lifeless, and when they picked him up, he had a cut on his face, and he started to bleed,” Reul said. “And they said, ‘He’s got a heartbeat.’”

Nathan was taken to a local hospital in Indiana before being transferred to the University of Chicago hospital via helicopter. He was “not near death when he arrived at the hospital,” Koogler said, but he was nonetheless listed in critical condition through the weekend.

“We believe God spared him for a reason,” Reul said, fighting back tears.