FARGO, N.D. (AP) _ An 11-year-old who was considered clinically dead after being submerged in an ice-covered river for nearly 45 minutes may be home by Christmas, his doctor says.

Doctors have not tested Alvaro Garza Jr. for brain damage, but the youngster's recognition of friends and family and accurate response to questions are encouraging, Dr. William Norberg said today.

''We've really been thrilled that he's come back to normal function,'' Norberg said on ABC-TV's ''Good Morning America.'' ''He's had some confusion, but that's normal. He's doing very complex and spontaneous activity.''

The Moorhead, Minn., boy was listed in serious condition today.

Alvaro was considered clinically dead with a body temperature of 80 degrees when he was taken to St. Luke's Hospitals on Friday, said Norberg, a pediatric critical-care specialist.

The youth fell through thin ice on the Red River while inspecting a dead squirrel and was underwater for nearly 45 minutes. The river separates the cities of Fargo and Moorhead.

The boy was taken off a respirator Tuesday and delighted relatives and physicians by asking for a soda, french fries and a hamburger.

''And he asked if he could go home because he thought home was considerably better than our place,'' Norberg said.

Garza was not allowed solid food or a soda but did receive a Popsicle, hospital officials said.

Alvaro Garza Sr., the boy's father, said he and his family were overjoyed when his son spoke Tuesday.

''I was real proud to hear that,'' said Garza, a migrant worker in the sugar beet fields of the Red River Valley. ''I thought (his voice) was something I'd never hear again.''

The elder Garza said today that his son does not remember his underwater ordeal. ''When he woke up he thought he was in Texas,'' he said.

The Garza family moved to Moorhead two years ago from Carrizo Springs, Texas.

Doctors made no promises to Alvaro about his release from the hospital, but Norberg said: ''We told him we're pretty sure we could get him home by Christmas.''

Norberg said doctors would not know until later whether the boy had suffered any brain damage.

The youngster and his family have received hundreds of letters of support. Nearly 300 letters arrived at the hospital Tuesday, and the hospital has set up a fund to help defray the costs of the boy's medical care.

The youth survived his submersion in the river because the extreme cold forced his body to stop most activity, reducing his need for oxygen, doctors say.