Things That Matter

A Journalist Knew That An Undocumented Comatose Man Had To Be Conscious And Went On A Wild Chase To Find His Family

For nearly 20 years, one anonymous crash victim had spent his days lying alone in a California hospital without a name, without family, and supposedly, without consciousness.

A man from Mexico, whose family believed him to be dead, had spent the better part of 20 years in a coma and unidentified. According to a recent report conducted by the Los Angeles Times, the victim was considered catatonic and in a “vegetative state” until one day, an investigative journalist began looking into the patient’s life and identified him. 

With her work, one man’s story, which could have seen the rest of his life spent on a hospital bed, is moving forward with a little bit more hope.

Just before his 34th birthday in January 2016, an investigative journalist began to dig into his story. 

Joann Faryon of the LA Times discovered his real name and spent four years by his side trying to prove that he was conscious. 

According to the Daily Mail, Ignacio was nicknamed ‘Sixty-Six Garage’ by trauma surgeons who treated him after he was injured in a car crash on June 1999. He was known as ‘Sixty-Six Garage’ for the first 16 years that he spent in a vegetative state at Villa Coronado Skilled Nursing Facility in Coronado. 

The Los Angeles Times was the original publication that broke the story on August 1 publishing a long-form column on how investigative journalist Faryon did all she could to find out the real identity of this man.

“[Sixty-Six Garage] is the name he probably would have been buried with if Ed Kirkpatrick, director of the Villa Coronado Skilled Nursing Facility, hadn’t let me into Room 20 — Garage’s room. I’d already spent nearly a year at the Villa, reporting on people on life support. I’d documented what life was like for people kept alive this way — more than 4,000 in California alone — and the life and death choices their families were forced to make. Now Kirkpatrick was trusting me to tell Garage’s story,” writes Faryon in her story. 

The article has also inspired the production of the podcast, titled “Room 20,” where the Los Angeles Times recounts the time the investigative journalist spent figuring out where he belonged and what his life before the accident had been like.

In the LA Times article, Faryon details the two years that she spent getting to know Ignacio, or Nacho, as his family called him. Through the trajectory of those two years, she tracked down people, she sorted through documents and scientific evidence in order to understand how one ordinary Mexican teenager could lose his humanity and his identity in such a tragic way. 

Ignacio had been in a car crash near the U.S.-Mexico border in 1999 shortly after crossing the border. 

According to the LA Times report, Garage had been kept alive in a hospital by way of feeding and breathing tubes. Doctors had declared that he was living in a vegetative state with no awareness of his surroundings. Authorities who had assumed he was an undocumented immigrant due to the few pesos he had in his pocket were uncertain as to how to identify him. 

But Faryon had refused to let the story go. After observing his interactions as the hospital she began to suspect that he was, in fact, conscious and aware of his surroundings when he seemingly smiled at her one day in 2015. Faryon also recalls the times that he “appeared to move in and out of consciousness,” sometimes smiling and other times Ignacio appeared to stare at the ceiling and “strike his right leg on the corner of the bed for hours.” 

After that one smile from Ignacio, this investigative journalist decided to fight for this man until getting to the bottom of who he was and where his family’s whereabouts were. 

Besides spending two years with Ignacio to figure out his story, Faryon showed the beautiful side of empathy and humanity as she basically became a huge part of his support system. In the article she published, she writes of the many medications Ignacio had to take and the numerous painful procedures he underwent on a daily basis and she talks about how she did her best to soothe him and make him feel safe. 

According to the original repor  Faryon had clocked in hundreds of hours  between 2015 and 2017 visiting Ignacio and trying to find more information about his crash.

The journalist managed to also uncover a copy of the accident report from 1999. The accident report she obtained revealed that he had been hit by a pickup truck that collided with another car. She also received help from immigrant rights advocacy organization Border Angels. The founder of the organization helped her track down Ignacio’s real name by cross-referencing his fingerprints with Border Patrol agent records. 

In 2016, Faryon tracked down Ignacio’s sister, Juliana, and traveled to Ohio to meet her in 2016.

According to Faryon’s reporting, Juliana explained that her brother Ignacio had left to the U.S. from his home in Oaxaca, Mexico when he was only 17 years old. Weeks after he embarked on his journey, Ignacio had called her to tell her he had been detained by Border Patrol. After he was released, he made the trip back to the U.S. again. 

After that second trip to the U.S., Julianna didn’t hear from her brother again and she assumed that he had died crossing the border that second time. But little did she know that her brother was in a hospital in California, unidentified and without anyone actively looking for him. 

Finally, in February of 2016, Faryon helped Julianna reunite with her brother Ignacio.

Although Faryon wasn’t present during the reunion, she writes that nursing assistants in the California facility that Ignacio was in, said they believed he recognized his older sister. 

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