Pre­cious gift

In April, 28-year-old Ecuadorean San­ti­ago Navar­rete had his right leg am­pu­tated af­ter be­ing in­jured in a 7.8-mag­ni­tude earth­quake. Thanks to Bei­jing-based in­ter­na­tional dis­as­ter re­lief NGO Pearl Hu­man­i­tar­ian Res­cue (PHR), he now wears a pros­the­sis. Navare

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at lar­rylee@chi­nadai­

China helps Ecuadorean man get a pros­thetic leg af­ter he was in­jured in earth­quake.

Had­she not been car­ry­ing a gi­ant plush panda, Laura Men­dez might have gone un­no­ticed as she walked past the pres­i­den­tial palace of Ecuador in Quito with her son, San­ti­ago Navar­rete, and their Colom­bian friend Ni­co­lay Fon­seca.

Fon­seca is the Latin Amer­ica rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Pearl Hu­man­i­tar­ian Res­cue, a Chi­nese dis­as­ter re­lief NGO es­tab­lished in Bei­jing last year.

Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and his Ecuadorean coun­ter­part Rafael Cor­rea were meet­ing inside the palace. It was Nov 18 and, for the first time, a Chi­nese head of state was vis­it­ing Ecuador.

Seven months be­fore, China had pro­vided $2 mil­lion in emer­gency cash and 60 mil­lion yuan ($8.69 mil­lion) in hu­man­i­tar­ian aid af­ter the most dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake since 1949 hit Ecuador’s north­west, claim­ing 673 lives and in­jur­ing more than 27,000, on April 16. Among the in­jured was 28-year-old Navar­rete, a univer­sity stu­dent from Quito.

He was on va­ca­tion with his best friend in the small coastal town of Canoa, about 170 kilo­me­ters from Quito and close to the 7.8-mag­ni­tude quake’s epi­cen­ter in Ped­er­nales.

When it struck at about 6:58 pm, Navarette was show­er­ing af­ter a swim in the sea. The ho­tel he was stay­ing in col­lapsed, bury­ing him and killing his friend.

He was found seven hours later, at about 3 am. But it wasn’t un­til 7 am that he was freed from the rub­ble by Ecuador’s na­tional res­cue team, led by Jose Ser­rano, min­is­ter of in­ter­nal af­fairs, who co­or­di­nated the res­cue ef­forts on site.

A mil­i­tary he­li­copter rushed him to a hospi­tal in Quayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, but his right leg was badly in­fected and had to be am­pu­tated.

Four days later, a nine­mem­ber med­i­cal team from PHR led by Xue Yu, its founder, ar­rived in Ped­er­nales.

Us­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence they had gained from the Nepal earth­quake last year, the team quickly es­tab­lished a base, dis­trib­uted med­i­ca­tion and pro­vided food.

Ser­rano, the min­is­ter, was im­pressed with the way they co­or­di­nated dif­fer­ent re­sources and ne­go­ti­ated with the dis­parate or­ga­ni­za­tions on the scene, in­clud­ing branches of the UN.

Hav­ing not had to deal with a ma­jor dis­as­ter for more than 60 years, since a 6.8-mag­ni­tude earth­quake killed 5,050 peo­ple on Aug 5, 1949, Ecuador na­tional res­cue team found it­self out of prac­tice and out­per­formed by the PHR medics.

See­ing this, Ser­rano made the de­ci­sion to in­vite Xue and his team to at­tend work­ing meet­ings with gen­er­als and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, and even au­tho­rized them to use mil­i­tary heli­copters. PHR is the only NGO to be in­te­grated into the Ecuadorean gov­ern­ment’s res­cue work in this way.

Af­ter 12 days of in­ten­sive ef­fort, PHR fin­ished its work in Ecuador. In to­tal, they had treated 2,600 in­jured peo­ple, spend­ing $160,000 in a joint ef­fort with the China Foun­da­tion for Poverty Al­le­vi­a­tion.

But be­fore they left, Ser­rano sug­gested Xue check on the first man he had res­cued - Navar­rete, who had been trans­ferred to a hospi­tal in Quito. The min­is­ter had learned about the stu­dent’s am­pu­ta­tion, and was anx­ious that Ecuador didn’t have the ca­pac­ity to man­u­fac­ture and mount ar­ti­fi­cial limbs. He hoped his new found Chi­nese friends might be able to help.

De­spite hav­ing faced the trauma of los­ing his leg, Navar­rete was op­ti­mistic about be­ing fit­ted with a pros­thetic. Xue gave him a hug, promised to help and bought him a gi­ant plush panda from a lo­cal Chi­nese sup­plier.

In the mean­time, PHR hired a flu­ent Chi­nese speaker called Ni­co­lay Fon­seca, to work in Ecuador as their over­seas co­or­di­na­tor, es­tab­lish­ing PHR’s Ecuador of­fice, while search­ing for oth­ers in need of ar­ti­fi­cial limbs. “We are try­ing to iden­tify more peo­ple who could ben­e­fit from this project, since not all of the in­jured are suit­able for ar­ti­fi­cial limbs and we need to do a med­i­cal eval­u­a­tion of them first,” he said, adding that five other in­jured peo­ple are cur­rently un­der­go­ing eval­u­a­tion.

For­tu­nately, Navar­rete was able to have a new leg fit­ted. Over the fol­low­ing three months, PHR spent $9,500 work­ing with the Her­mano Miguel Foun­da­tion in Ecuador and a pros­the­sis work­shop in the US to fabri­cate and mount the new leg.

Navar­rete knows that with­out Chi­nese as­sis­tance he might never have walked again.

When he learned that Pres­i­dent Xi was vis­it­ing Quito, he and his mother, Laura Men­dez, hoped to ex­press their grat­i­tude in per­son, which is why they were out­side the pres­i­den­tial palace on Nov 18.

They brought the gi­ant plush gi­ant panda and a let­ter Navarette had writ­ten to Xi.

“I am the luck­i­est one among all un­lucky peo­ple who suf­fered the earth­quake in April; not only be­cause I was the first to be res­cued by our na­tional res­cue team, but also be­cause I have ob­tained a China leg with the help of Pearl Hu­man­i­tar­ian Res­cue from China,” he wrote.

“I would like to take the op­por­tu­nity of your visit to my coun­try, Ecuador, to ex­press my grat­i­tude to you and the very kind Chi­nese peo­ple. Your peo­ple came from a coun­try 10,000 miles away, pro­vided us with med­i­cal as­sis­tance and cre­ated plans to mount ar­ti­fi­cial limbs for the in­jured. All this has made it pos­si­ble for me to stand up again with the courage and con­fi­dence to con­tinue in life. Thank you for giv­ing me this beau­ti­ful life.”

How­ever, the mother and son were dis­ap­pointed, as Xi stayed less than 24 hours in Quito and could not meet with them.

But with his “China leg”, Navarette is de­ter­mined to live his life as never be­fore. Us­ing his ma­jor in trans­porta­tion man­age­ment, he now works for the Ecuadorean in­te­rior min­istry’s depart­ment of mo­tor ve­hi­cles. His knowl­edge of China has grown as well.

He now knows of Co­caCodo-Sin­clair, a $2.3 bil­lion hy­draulic power sta­tion in east­ern Ecuador built by Si­no­hy­dro Cor­po­ra­tion, that is the largest Chi­nese in­vest­ment project in the coun­try and can pro­vide one third of its elec­tric­ity needs.

Navarette is get­ting mar­ried in April, one year af­ter his new life be­gan. He and his fi­ancee Nathaly Gordillo are hop­ing to hon­ey­moon in Bei­jing, so that they can be re­united with their friends at PHR. Since his mom had been with him, taken care of him al­most all the time dur­ing his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, Navarette feels he owes his mom dearly. Def­i­nitely he will in­clude his mom in the com­ing trip to China.

They would like to visit the Great Wall and see Changchun, where the iconic Red Flag car brand is made.

It is still Navarette’s wish to meet with Pres­i­dent Xi and ex­press an or­di­nary Ecuadorean’s thanks to him. But whether he does or not, he will have his gi­ant plush panda with him. That panda has be­come his mas­cot. For­ever.

I am the luck­i­est one among all un­lucky peo­ple who suf­fered the earth­quake in April.’’

San­ti­ago Navar­rete, a vic­tim of the 2016 Ecuador earth­quake


San­ti­ago Navar­rete and his mother Laura Men­dez wait out­side the pres­i­den­tial palace of Ecuador in Quito on Nove 18, ex­pect­ing to see the vis­it­ing Chi­nese Presid­net Xi Jin­ping.


Navar­rete re­ceives a plush gi­ant panda as a gift from Pearl Hu­man­i­tar­ian Res­cue founder Xue Yu in a hospi­tal in Quito, Ecuador.


Navar­rete is happy with his “China leg”.

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