Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By Marcos Aleman
The Associated Press
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — A fisherman who says he drifted at sea for more than a year, surviving on raw fish, turtles and bird blood, is in stunningly good health but psychologically fragile, medical experts said Wednesday as he recuperated in a hospital in his native El Salvador.
Jose Salvador Alvarenga arrives at Comalapa airport near San Salvador, El Salvador, on Tuesday. He told officials that he spent more than a year adrift in the Pacific Ocean.
Fishermen set out to sea on Feb. 4 from the fishing town of Ahuachapan in El Salvador, the hometown of fisherman Jose Salvador Alvarenga. The 37-year-old Alvarenga say he drank turtle blood and ate raw fish to survive his ordeal at sea.
Jose Salvador Alvarenga told doctors he came close to giving up hope of being rescued after several large ships came near his small fishing boat but none tried to rescue him, even though sailors on at least one even waved at him.
“They passed close by, he asked them for help and they didn’t want to provide it,” said El Salvador’s minister of public health, Maria Isabel Rodriguez. “There was one that almost destroyed his little boat because it came so close, but nobody helped him.”
THOUGHTS OF HIS FAMILY
Although he was close to despair, “his desire to live was greater, he thought of his family and said that he wanted to live,” Rodriguez said.
All of the doctors who have seen Alvarenga expressed concern about his mental state, saying he appeared shaken and he asked to be given as much privacy as possible amid an international media furor over his apparent ordeal.
“I want to be alone with my family. They should give me time to talk after I have recovered, because right now I’m in no shape to explain anything,” Alvarenga said from his hospital bed in a video shown to the press by the ministry of public health. “That’s what I’m asking them, that they leave me in peace, so I can recover, that they don’t bother my family, so I can be well. Nothing more than that.”
Alvarenga underwent a battery of tests after returning home from the Marshall Islands, where he showed up after what he has described as 6,500-mile journey from Mexico across the Pacific that began when his small fishing boat was thrown off course by bad weather.
The medical team that examined him at the San Rafael hospital in the Salvadoran capital said he was in remarkably good physical health, with no skin lesions from overexposure to the sun and no cardiovascular or kidney issues. His only physical problem, doctors said, was a case of anemia.
“All of the exams have been basically close to normal. It’s incredible,” Rodriguez said.
She and other Salvadoran experts who looked at Alvarenga’s results said they had no doubt about the veracity of his tale, which left many skeptical even in the absence of an alternate explanation for his sudden appearance on the Marshall Islands’ Ebon atoll.
“He challenges ideas about human physiology that we’ve had for a long time, but miracles exist and I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt him,” hospital director Yeerles Ramirez told reporters.
Rodriguez said that after Alvarenga arrived at the San Salvador airport late Tuesday and saw dozens of waiting reporters, photographers and cameramen, “he quickly fell into a depression and started crying because he’s not ready to talk to the whole world.”
Alvarenga, 37, has asked for tortillas and a pupusa, a thick stuffed corn tortilla that is a Salvadoran specialty, and he has already eaten a tortilla with cheese, Rodriguez said.
The fisherman will remain hospitalized for at least two days while he rests and undergoes a series of exams, among them a test of his kidney function, Ramirez told reporters outside the hospital.
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