March 2 2012 at 7pm CEIBA volunteer Fredy Viera was returning home from work with his wife when a bomb exploded on the bus they were riding. As the bus burst into flames, Fredy jumped from the moving vehicle with his wife in his arms. While his wife has recovered with an intensive jaw operation, Fredy hit head first, and was in a coma for a month, and has recently woken up. While his eyes are open and he is out of ICU and breathing on his own, he still cannot speak. Below I describe my experience accompanying Fredy`s family, and ways you can support.
In El Salvador, you don`t walk into the ICU unit. You RUN up the stairs, say your prayers or words of support, and then you RUN down the starts to give the visitor ticket to the next family member. The visiting hours are from 1-2pm only, with one visitor at a time. No exceptions. And the ICU unit looks like a little warehouse, with bodies lined up one after the other, and people walking in and out as they please; often patients die in ICU from pneumonia or other infectious diseases instead of the injury itself. No wonder. In addition, you get exactly one month to be on life support before the government pulls the plus, since most people in a coma will wake up within two weeks if they wake up at all, and the public health system in El Salvador is a bit…underfunded.
So I sat with Fredy in the ICU warehouse, brilliant, creative, musical Fredy, a 27 year old who volunteered with us for more than a year and half working with the Children`s Emergency Committees in Joya Grande. Fredy is magical with children, and makes his living teaching music, with a million musical icebreakers in his back pocket ready rein in any wild child to attentive concentration. Fredy, who would at times hitchhike to Joya Grande in order to make it to our disaster drills and workshops, was purple all over and breathing with a machine. Another innocent victim to the violence in El Salvador, to the gang turf wars and extortions that are killing the few Salvadorans with enough hope left to try and rebuild their country. Fredy was the income earner for his family, which includes two children ages 5 and 1.5, and his grandmother. If Fredy is not working, who will put food on the table?
Rocked by this experience, CEIBA decided to try and pay Fredy back a fraction of how much he supported out work, and hosted a CEIBAR fundraiser, selling beers, nachos, and French fries. I printed huge 8x10 photos of him and the children of Joya Grande, letting the tears fall as I pasted them around my house. On March 23rd, a day before the annual vigil and 32nd anniversary of Romero`s assassination, I asked the party goers to please light a candle and say a special prayer for Fredy`s return so that he make continue to serve his people. Fredy loved Romero, and even hosted a Life of Romero photo exhibit with the youth he worked in Santo Tomas the year before. I bet Romero would have really liked Fredy too.
In the days following the Romero Vigil, Fredy began to breathe on his own! I went to the hospital, giving the $300 we raised to Elizabeth, who was with their youngest child Andres. I showed Andres the 8x10 photos of his father helping children in shelters, and Andres raised his tiny finger to the man he recognized…papi?!? He tentatively questioned, as I nodded, swallowing hard, feeling anger well up inside me at the perpetrators of the crime that kept Fredy asleep.
It was my turn to run up the stairs for my 10 minutes with Fredy. His eyes were open, and he tracked the photos as I tried to jog his memory, telling him about the children in Joya Grande, and the early march rains, asking him to get better soon because I need him for the children exchange we have May 26th, and how much I missed his ideas. I told him I was leaving in July, and he blinked faster and harder, and began to move and foam at the mouth as if he wanted to respond? The phone rang. Times up. I squeezed his hand and rushed down the stairs to give the ticket to Fredy`s mother, giving her the photos to decorate his drab room (shared with 15 other patients).
The neurological damage is unknown, and until the feeding tubes can be pulled, and Fredy can speak, we won`t really know. The Viera family is trying to work on contacts with the FMLN and government to move Fredy to Cuba for neurological therapy, where he can receive treatment 7 hours a day from a therapist, but for a hefty price. In El Salvador, therapists can only visit brain damaged patients once every two weeks.
I will continue to visit Fredy and his family, and next week plan to bring our 8 minute long children`s disaster commercial video (on our You Tube Channel CEIBAelsalvador) to help jog his memory with sounds, and am hoping to sneak a guitar into the hospital as well. Please pray for him and his family, and for the violence in El Salvador to end. If you want to make a donation to support his family during this time, please send it via paypal (www.friendsofsantamaria.blogspot.com) and mark a note that it is for the Viera family.