California teacher not allowed to leave Guatemala hospital after breaking his neck

A high school teacher from California is living a vacation nightmare in Central America, where he was seriously injured while surfing.

Officials say 28-year-old Alex Austin was on vacation in Guatemala on the beach with his friend Dillon Nicholson when he made a tragic mistake.

"He just kind of misjudged the wave and dove headfirst into water that was maybe a foot and a half deep," Nicholson said. "And he broke his neck."

Austin had surgery on his neck vertebrae and has been in a hospital in Guatemala City for a week. He's making progress and is not paralyzed, and he recorded a video of his progress and posted it on Facebook.

"I'm doing quite better than I ever thought I would be," he said. "I'm getting some good mobility back. I'm really excited to hopefully make it back to America sometime soon."

The problem is getting home. Nicholson says the hospital requires payment in full before he can be released to fly home for further treatment.

"They've taken his passport," Nicholson said. "We've talked to the US embassy. They say it's completely normal practices, so we have to pay the bill in order for him to be released."

A GoFundMe account has raised about $23,000, and Dinuba High School principal Mike Roberts says money has come from teachers and students.

"A big portion of our teachers donated," Roberts said. "I know some of our students have donated also."

Alex teaches chemistry and science to freshmen and juniors, and Roberts says the students have been worried.

"They were excited to hear he is up and walking around, and so a lot of prayers are being sent his way," Roberts said.

Austin is expected to be released from the hospital this week if the bill is paid. He will then have to remain in Guatemala for about 10 days for follow-up care. Nicholson said it's been an ordeal but that it's been inspiring to watch Austin pull through.

"You know, going from where we were just a week ago laying on the beach, he couldn't feel anything or move anything below his neck," Nicholson said. "So the fact now that he's walking and he's feeding himself and can move his arms and his legs, it's an absolute miracle in my opinion."

Principal Roberts said the school hopes Austin will be back to work in about six weeks.

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