Things That Matter

A Girl In Puerto Rico Died From An Illness Because The Only Hospital In Her Area Was Destroyed During Hurricane Maria

There is sad news out of Vieques, Puerto Rico where a young teenage girl has passed away after suffering flu-like symptoms. Jaideliz Moreno Ventura, 13, died on Sunday after her condition worsened she began convulsing. Now, her family is pointing the blame on the island’s inadequate medical facilities. 

Vieques, a Caribbean island off of Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, hasn’t had a working hospital in over two years. That’s because its old primary hospital, Family Health Center Susana Centeno, was closed due to damage from Hurricane Maria, which hit the island more than two years ago.

What started out as just flu-like symptoms turned into a tragedy within the span of three days. 

It all started last Friday when Jaideliz told family members that she was experiencing flu-like symptoms. According to local media, her uncle, Carlos “Prieto” Ventura, said that she had “a fever, a sore throat, and a headache.” She was then taken to a hospital in Puerto Rico for a checkup and to be tested for influenza. While the results of the test came back negative and she returned back home to Vieques, things got worse over the weekend. 

By Sunday, Jaideliz’s symptoms only got worse as she began to have spasms and severe head pain. After the family took notice of her increasingly worse conditions, she was taken to the only health facility on the island, the Center for Diagnostics and Treatment, which was due to Hurricane Maria destroying its old hospital. According to NBC News, the clinic lacked proper medical equipment to help Jaideliz. Her cousin, José Ventura, told the news outlet that the facility didn’t have a working mechanical ventilator for oxygen, only an older manual air pump. 

By 11:30 a.m. local time Jaideliz was pronounced dead as she was being transported to Puerto Rico on an air ambulance. 

For those living on Vieques, receiving medical attention isn’t easy. Many have to take a boat to receive medical attention in Puerto Rico where trip times vary from 30 minutes to multiple hours. 

There is growing anger and blame about the teen’s death with many people pointing blame at the inadequate assistance that Puerto Rico and nearby islands have received since Hurricane Maria hit in 2017. The situation in Vieques is a perfect example of that as residents lack nearby health services and aid. 

“If we had more resources, she would be with us right now,” her cousin told NBC News. “They have forgotten about us.”

Puerto Rico’s Health Secretary, Rafael Rodríguez Mercado, says that he has ordered an immediate investigation into the death of Jaideliz and which circumstances could have caused this tragedy. Back in December, Democratic lawmakers requested an investigation into why FEMA hadn’t done anything to help rebuild Vieques’ only hospital. But lawmakers alerted FEMA about this issue in May but there was never any response. 

“In Puerto Rico, we talk a lot about how we are treated as second class citizens, but the people of Vieques and Culebra [another island off the coast of Puerto Rico] are being treated as third-class citizens,” Edgardo Román Espada, president of Puerto Rico’s Bar Association, told NBC News last May. 

Jaideliz’s family is using this tragedy as a wakeup call for health officials to do something about the deteriorating situation on the island. They are hoping for more medical supplies and equipment so this situation doesn’t happen again.

On Wednesday, a vigil was held in the girl’s honor as her family called for help. They say that they “don’t want Jai’s death to be in vain” and made the plea for more medical assistance. Her mother says the island needs to “have a dignified hospital, with medical equipment and supplies —so that no other mother will have to go through what I am dealing with now.” 

“Up to a point, the people feel abandoned, that politicians come and go, and there are no bonds of affection and our feelings are obvious. We live this problem and that is why our pain here. All this adds more regret and anguish to our people,” her uncle told local media. “This is what you live every moment on our island. We need more sensitivity. ”

This tragedy followed what has already been a tough start of the year for Puerto Rico as a 6.4 magnitude quake shook the island back on Jan.7, killing at least one person, destroying homes and leaving most utility customers in the dark. There has been an estimated $110 million in damages caused by the quake. 

READ: This Photographer Took Hundreds of Stunning Photos of the Most Endangered Indigenous Tribes Across the World

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Woman Who Watched Her Mother Die Before Her Eyes While At Sea As A 9-Year-Old Reunited With Her Rescuers

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Woman Who Watched Her Mother Die Before Her Eyes While At Sea As A 9-Year-Old Reunited With Her Rescuers

Justin Sullivan / Getty

May 20, 1986, started out for Desireé Rodriguez and her family as an idyllic morning.

At the time, Desireé’s father (a 30-year-old construction worker by the name of Thomas Rodriguez) had taken her, her mother, and sister as well an aunt and uncle out to Catalina Island for a day of sailing. The plan was to go out, fish, and bask in the summer sun before heading back home. In the evening, just as they were headed home the family was impacted by a dense fog. Desireé and her 5-year-old sister Trisha awoke from a nap on the boat to calls from her father to abandon ship and within minutes the entire family was lost at sea. Out in the water and away from their boat that had capsized.

 The family of six was stranded in the chilly Pacific water for hours and Desireé watched as her father first went to swim for rescue and never returned. In the hours that slowly stretched by Desireé witnessed the death of her sister, her mother, her uncle and then her aunt.

Decades have passed since her family’s accident but Desireé has lived to tell of the story thanks to the two men who rescued her.

In a recent piece by The New York times, Desireé was reunited with the two men who were remarkably able to save her after she spent a nightmarish 20 hours in the ocean.

Only 9-years-old at the time of the tragic events, Desireé recalls believing that her father would return with help when he first swam away from the boat. “My dad was like the superhero to me. I actually thought he would get help,” Desireé explained before calling the desperate hours that followed. After watching her family members die, she found herself all alone.

“At that point, I just kind of made the decision, I need to get away from this boat,” Desireé recalled to the New York Times. “I need to swim away, somewhere else. … Where? I don’t know.”

Just when Desireé decided to give up hope, the skipper of a commercial sportfishing boat spotted her orange life jacket in the water.

The boat’s first officer leapt into the water and fished Desireé out of the water. Desireé was ultimately transported back to San Pedro and never saw her rescuers again.

“I don’t think I would have lived, I’ll be honest with you. I think at that point, I was just kind of done,” Desireé explained in a recent interview about the incident. According to an article at the time that described the incident, Desireé had suffered no major physical injuries and was “in good spirits.” She left the hospital in San Pedro the next time.

“I had even hoped that my dad did make it somewhere,” Desireé explained of her thinking of the time. “Maybe he is living on an island and just got amnesia and didn’t know that he has a family. You know, you always have hope. But you get older, and reality sets in, and you’re like, OK. He didn’t make it.”

Paul Strasser and Mark Pisano, the two men who rescued her, ultimately earned commemorative plaques for their bravery from Mayor Tom Bradley. Desireé Rodriguez, now Desireé Campuzano, was adopted by another aunt and uncle who raised her. She went onto attend junior college in Fullerton, built herself a career in criminal justice, married and had a son. Still, she always wondered what had happened to the men who saved her.

It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that Strasser and Pisano came into contact with Philip Friedman who launched a podcast about his hobby as a fisherman.

“Friedman Adventures” which launched this past December, shares incredible stories from fishermen. Ine one episode Pisano spoke about the 1986 rescue.

“It’s kind of a weird story, kind of like there are some supernatural qualities,” Pisano explained of the experience on the podcast.

Friedman felt motivated to unite the two rescuers and Desireé. Ultimately a friend of Desireé’s heard the episode when it aired and made the connection. He reached out to Desireé and then Friedman and ultimately she and her rescuers were reunited.

“I was nervous at first,” Desireé said of meeting Strasser and Pisano “just seeing [the] guys and putting kind of finalization to the ‘what happened.’” The three were finally reunited during another episode of the podcast.

“I feel like she’s sort of our daughter, in a way, because we brought her back to life,” Strasser said during their reunion. “Even though we never knew each other.”

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Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Things That Matter

Today, Puerto Rico Celebrates Emancipation Day–the Day When the Island Officially Abolished Slavery

Photo via George W. Davis, Public Domain

Today, March 22nd marks Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud in Puerto Rico–the date that marks the emancipation of slaves in Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, enslaved peoples were emancipated in 1873–a full decade after the U.S. officially abolished slavery. But unlike the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico celebrates today as an official holiday, where many businesses are closed.

The emancipation of Puerto Rican slaves was a very different process than the United States’. For one, the emancipation was gradual and over three years.

When the Spanish government abolished slavery in Puerto Rico 1873, enslaved men and women had to buy their freedom. The price was set by their “owners”. The way the emancipated slaves bought their freedom was through a process that was very similar to sharecropping in the post-war American south. Emancipated slaves farmed, sold goods, and worked in different trades to “buy” their freedom.

In the same Spanish edict that abolished slavery, slaves over the age of 60 were automatically freed. Enslaved children who were 5-years-old and under were also automatically freed.

Today, Black and mixed-race Puerto Ricans of Black descent make up a large part of Puerto Rico’s population.

The legacy of enslaved Black Puerto Ricans is a strong one. Unlike the United States, Puerto Rico doesn’t classify race in such black-and-white terms. Puerto Ricans are taught that everyone is a mixture of three groups of people: white Spanish colonizers, Black African slaves, and the indigenous Taíno population.

African influences on Puerto Rican culture is ubiquitous and is present in Puerto Rican music, cuisine, and even in the way that the island’s language evolved. And although experts estimate that up to 60% of Puerto Ricans have significant African ancestry, almost 76% of Puerto Ricans identified as white only in the latest census poll–a phenomenon that many sociologists have blamed on anti-blackness.

On Puerto Rico’s Día de la Abolición de Esclavitud, many people can’t help but notice that the island celebrates a day of freedom and independence when they are not really free themselves.

As the fight for Puerto Rican decolonization rages on, there is a bit of irony in the fact that Puerto Rico is one of the only American territories that officially celebrates the emancipation of slaves, when Puerto Rico is not emancipated from the United States. Yes, many Black Americans recognize Juneteenth (June 19th) as the official day to celebrate emancipation from slavery, but it is not an official government holiday.

Perhaps, Puerto Rico celebrates this historical day of freedom because they understand how important the freedom and independence is on a different level than mainland Americans do.

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