Monica Hernandez /Eyewitness News
JEFFERSON, La. -- The president of a prestigious university in Colombia is recovering at West Jefferson hospital, afternearly four full days of searchingrescuers found himWednesday afternoon in a swampy area of Jean Lafitte National park.
Rescuers said it is an inspirational story of survival that Dr. Francisco Piedrahita not only survivedfour days in the heatwithout food or water, but doctors said they're amazed at his condition.
Family members said they can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
As an ambulance rushed Piedrahita to West Jefferson Hospital, elated family members embraced.
'We screamed we hugged, my sister passed out,' said Marisa Uribe, Piedrahita's sister-in-law.
After the four grueling days of searching, the 65-year-old president of Universidad Icesi had been found. He was lucid, talking, even joking.
'He gave thumbs up, so that was wonderful,' said John Matheorne, a chaplain who consoled the family during his disappearance.
'It was such a relief to feel this and he's very strong. He wanted so much to live, his son is married in two weeks,' said Uribe.
Dozens of searchers spent the last four days combing the pecan grove area of Jean Lafitte National Park, where the avid bird photographer was last seen.
A helicopter spotted him and ground crews rescued him, dehydrated and disoriented, from a small island about 300 yards off a bird-watching trail, surrounding by swamp.
'We never lost hope. One hundred percent optimistic. Having met him now, I spent 15 minutes talking to him. This gentleman is a warrior, he is a trooper,' said Ken Moses from the National Park Service.
Doctors are using IVs to rehydrate the university president. They said he is covered in bug bites, and has had little to eat or drink since Saturday. But, overall, doctors are amazed by Piedrahita's condition.
'It certainly is amazing, and he's in much much much better condition than what might expect,' said Dr. Robert Chugden. 'We've seen people stuck out in swamps and people stuck out in bayous for a day or two and generally look worse than this.'
Doctors are also treating Piedrahita for muscle atrophy, stemming from him doing exactly as he should have: Staying put, and waiting for searchers to find him.
'He heard helicopters, he heard dogs barking, that gave him hope because he knew he was being looked for,' said Moses.
Family members said Piedrahita is telling and retelling the incredible story of how he got lost in the woods and survived.
'He took good notes, and he had a strategy, and he was thinking, what should I do. So we'll have a good story to tell ... and it will be an anecdote and not a tragedy,' said Estaban Piedrahita, Dr. Piedrahita's son.
'Now what I am going to call him Mr. Rambo, because for me it is unbelievable he is alive,' said Uribe.
Family members said Piedrahita got lost as he was looking for a certain type of bird in a pond just off the trail. They said the trail didn't have a clear ending and his map wasn't very clear, so he lost his way, and decided to just stay put.
Doctors expect him to be released within the next few days.