By Steve Overmyer

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It was an accident that almost cost one hospital chaplain his life. He credits his recovery to the power of prayer, and people of different faiths coming together.

“All I know is, out there that day, I became a little bit more aware of what his role is in life and my personal connection to faith,” said Dr. Orlando Santandreu, chief OBGYN at LIJ Forest Hills.

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Dr. Santandreu and Father Radu Titonea are celebrating the one-year anniversary of near tragedy on the water. Father Radu was eager to learn how to Jet Ski. In the middle of the pandemic, the water was a sanctuary.

“It was an escape. It was a release,” Father Radu told CBS2’s Steve Overmyer on Thursday.

They went out a day after a storm and a 4-foot wave sent Father Radu off the ski.

“He was facing down in the water and just floating,” Santandreu said.

(Photo: CBS2)

Father Radu hit the Jet Ski so hard it shattered his face and neck, leaving him unconscious and gravely injured.

“I started backward resuscitation … and I heard a little ‘uhhh’ and I was like, ‘Oh, thank you,'” Santandreu said.

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The doctor worked on Father Radu for 20 minutes. No boats were nearby and it was getting dark. Then he saw a tugboat and flagged it down.

“The guys said, ‘What do you need?’ and I go like, ‘I’m losing him and I can’t hold him anymore and I’m afraid he’s going to die,'” Santandreu said.

Within minutes, Father Radu was transported to a hospital, but he was far from out of the woods. For weeks, he remained unconscious, suffered three strokes and was fighting for his life. The only thing left was to pray. What was unusual was who was praying for him.

“Judaism, Islamics, Buddhists, even the atheists. Everybody that you knew became one,” Santandreu said.

“Everybody came together and they forgot their differences,” Father Radu said.

He eventually woke up, and six months after he was near death he returned to work, praying with others.

“I saw how humanity could be — no color, no religion and one common goal and be there for each other,” Santandreu said.

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A shared humanity we can all celebrate.

Steve Overmyer