The Story of Two Cuban Survivors

by Ivett de las Mercedes

Maylin and Javier
Marilin and Javier

HAVANA TIMES – Marilin de Pedro (37) and Javier Casanova (30) met at the Julio Diaz Orthopedic Hospital. Both of them were victims of traffic accidents, at different times. She graduated in Civil Engineering and he works in construction as a floor polisher at the Havana Convention Center.

HT: How did your accidents happen?

Marilin de Pedro: It was on February 5, 2002 at 6pm. I was studying Civil Engineering at ISPJAE. I was waiting for public transport that day to get home from Havana. A truck stopped in front of me and the driver let me on. I kept falling asleep. Near Candelaria, a loud noise woke me up and we began to go round and round inside the truck, we landed inside a 40 meter ditch. I got out through the windshield and fell down to the ground because of my cuts. I couldn’t feel my body. The driver broke an arm and incurred head injuries. I couldn’t move. Two men carried me and put me inside a car; I couldn’t breathe.

Javier Casanova: My accident took place on December 20th in 2007 at 2:30pm. I was talking on a public telephone opposite Havana University. A truck came straight towards me, hit me and threw me against a gate. I felt a lot of pain, the police picked up my ID card, wallet and watch. When the ambulance arrived, there was a doctor and a man who looked like Jesus Christ, they told me that everything was going to be OK. They covered my feet with a sheet and they gave me a blood transfusion because I was losing a lot of blood.

HT: The operations must have been very difficult if these accidents were so serious, right?

MP: They took me to San Cristobal Hospital in Artemisa Province. It was 7pm when they put me on a stretcher, but I wasn’t seen until midnight when they gave me oxygen. The doctor pricked my feet but I couldn’t feel them. After taking some X-rays, they detected a cervical fracture in my C1 and C2 vertebrae and a spinal injury; the doctors didn’t want to put me through an operation that would go on for 12 hours because it was too risky, my pulse was only at 30 bpm.

They spoke to my mother and they told her that my neck was broken.  They gave me medicine intravenously, I urinated into a catheter but I didn’t feel I needed to defecate. I was very lucky, I owe God and the many contacts that my then father-in-law began to make. At the Cira Garcia Hospital, he met Doctor Enrique D’Jhon and Ivan Arenas, they’d already done two operations where they’d introduced a screw through the neck down to the vertebrae, although this isn’t usually done in Cuba because we don’t have the conditions to carry out such a tricky procedure. I suffered complications in the operation because one of my lungs had filled up with blood and they had to give me a tracheotomy.

JC: They took me to the Calixto Garcia Hospital. I can walk thanks to Doctor Enrique Faeda Castro and all of his medical team.  The first operation I had went on for seven hours, the bone in my left shinbone splintered in such a way that I had a triangle and that affected my sciatic nerve, that’s why I can’t move my ankle. The bone in my other leg was also fractured. I left the operations room at night and when I woke up the first thing I did was to look at my feet. I had five blood transfusions and I had to undergo another operation. They managed to secure my leg with external screws and fixers. Then I had to deal with the whole subject of my wounds.

HT: Did the police come to see you to file a report?

MP: They came to file a report and to find out what exactly happened, the truck belonged to the State and it ended up in a bad state. As I had fallen asleep, I didn’t really know what had happened. The driver visited me and was very worried about my health; afterwards, he left for the US.

JC: In my case, the driver was given a sentence of two years home detention, he came to see me to let me know that he was serving his sentence, but he only came twice. The truck didn’t have an emergency break and that’s why it derailed off the road.

HT: How did you manage to recover?

MP: It was a hard process, but thanks to my willpower and to all of the support I received, I was able to recover my mobility.  I still have some limitations when I move my neck.

JC: It seemed impossible to fix what had happened to me. Through the intervention of some of my friends, I arrived at Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital. They gave me two implants, one was 75% attached (although it was a success according to the doctors because this is a very difficult area), the other one was attached 100%. They used skin from my thighs, I was so skinny that there was nowhere else to take it from. Six months later, the doctor decided that I could stand up on my feet, but it was impossible to walk, I had problems with my fibula. They operated on me again.

HT: I imagine that physiotherapy played a key role in your recovery.

MP: It was vital and painful. Nine months after the accident, I was admitted to the Julio Diaz Hospital where I did all kinds of exercises, the physiotherapists were very concerned. Within a year, I began to take my first steps again, but it made me dizzy, want to throw up; I really need a wheelchair. Currently, I have no strength in my right side, not in my arm or my leg, I’m very limited as to how I can move them.

JC: I began to walk with crutches and I was admitted to Julio Diaz Hospital in November 2008.  The rehabilitation work I did there was very good. You can still see the scars of my injuries and implants, my doctor says that cosmetic surgery can improve them, but he doesn’t recommend it because here in Cuba we don’t have the conditions and because it isn’t something necessary, the important thing is that I can walk. Recently, my feet are hurting me a lot.

HT: So, Marilin, you really need an electric chair rather than a wheelchair, right?

MP: I can’t use a wheelchair by myself because of the difficulty I have with my right hand. I had my first electric chair in 2006, it’s broken now. My neighbor loaned me one but it doesn’t have any batteries and I can’t get a hold of them anywhere. I work in the Physical Planning Department as a specialist in urban layouts. The director has brought me a computer to my house because they need me to do my job, I have to ask my colleagues to take pictures of places and they bring them to me. With an electric chair, I’d be able to do it all myself. My family and my two sons help me clean the house, I can cook and wash up. I also have Javier, we’ve been together for two years; he motivates me and helps me with everything.

HT: Do you belong to the Cuban Association of the Physically Impaired and Motor Impaired?

MP: Yes, here in Candelaria we really want it to work but we don’t have a budget. We get two wheelchairs come through a year and there are a lot of disabled people. There is a US organization – Johnny and Friends- who come to Cuba every year and donate wheelchairs to different provinces, depending on your physical condition.

HT: How did you two meet?

MP: I met Javier the last time I was admitted to hospital two years ago. He lives in Havana and comes to my home every weekend, and then goes back to work on Monday. Before, he always used to wear trousers, I told him that I have to use a wheelchair and I’m not ashamed, the important thing is that he can walk; he’s beginning to wear shorts now. We get on really well and we understand each other.

JC: I feel very comfortable around Marilin, I’m very calm. I want to live many years by her side. The worst has already happened, now we can only go upwind.

5 thoughts on “The Story of Two Cuban Survivors

  • Sorry if I came off a bit aggressive Steve, but remember that, “… the truck didn’t have an emergency break (sic) and that’s why it derailed off the road…” is a translation only and not a good one. Who knows what the real story is.

    Lastly, car accidents are the #1 reason for Canadians being detained in Cuba and anyone who rents a car there should know that. And Cuba is far from unique in detaining foreign drivers who screwed up then can’t pay for their criminal mistakes.

    All the best to you.

  • In the report above it said (the truck did not have an emergency break and that is it derailed off the road.) The majority of the Cuban truck or bus drivers I rode with were ok. I drive truck in Canada and the U.S. and work with a much larger company than mine and supervise the repairs on their fleet and ran our repair shop for the farm and the trucks and hired the staff for several years. You are right I do not what the real circumstances were, but I had a friend from Canada rented a small car the tire blew out and caused a crash and he had to stay in Cuba for almost 3 months and only after paying the repair to both cars was he allowed to leave. You are right I am sorry I did not see the crash or talk to anyone so I should not have guess about what happened.

  • “… To give the truck driver 2 years house arrest for something was partly caused by poor repairs is just wrong…”

    You have no clue what the real circumstances were so venturing an opinion is meaningless guesswork.

    In any case, whether the truck had borderline brakes/etc. or whether the brakes/etc. were brand new the majority of Cuban commercial drivers would still drive EXACTLY the same.

  • The trucks need to have been in a better state of repair. I wish both the best but the duties on private car parts and the very poor state of repair of many trucks and buses cause many people to be hurt. To give the truck driver 2 years house arrest for something was partly caused by poor repairs is just wrong.

  • One can only wish this couple every good fortune, to match the tribulations each of them has experienced.

Comments are closed.