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Son recounts horror of Little Ferry man’s stroke in Mexico, thanks many who helped

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

A SON WRITES: On behalf of my father, and my entire family, I would like to thank all who donated funds, made phone calls, or expressed their concern in anyway about the welfare and safe return of my dad, John J. Garland.

Words cannot express the gratitude and comfort my family was given when we realized the amount of love and support that was coming our way from anyone who ever touched our lives in even the slightest way.

For me to say I have the best father anyone could ever wish for may seem like a cliché that anyone could utter, but in my case, it is just a plain fact, recognizable to even those that are not related to us.

To use some common expressions, my father is the “salt of the earth” and would give anyone the “shirt off his back.” Anyone who knows him would agree.

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From teaching me how to ride a bicycle or coaching my baseball team as a child, to just showing up at my house to help me fix my pool filter with coffee and doughnuts in hand, or offer me some life advice, he has always been there, supporting me and pushing me in the right direction, and for that I will be forever grateful and forever in his debt.

A Vietnam veteran who supported his family by running his own business, he has truly been the “rock” of our family, and, needless to say, we were all devastated by the events that took place during our vacation to Riviera Maya, Mexico, this past week.

It all began on an exhilarating note when my family and some friends traveled to the Hard Rock Resort, Rivera Maya on Saturday Aug. 9.

We touched down in a tropical paradise, and quickly took in all the resort had to offer — the lavish pools, the beautiful turquoise ocean, not to mention the all you could eat and drink amenities.

We were having a great time, celebrating my sister Tara’s recent 40th birthday, a birthday that would be a milestone for anyone but was especially a milestone for her, as she had been born with a congenital heart defect known as “transposition of the great vessels.”

She had endured two open heart surgeries, as well as the placement of a pacemaker and defibrillator, part of a life-long struggle to survive that she still fights to this day.

Late Monday, Aug. 11, my dad started complaining about a pain in his leg. He had a massage at the resorts “rock spa” earlier that day and attributed his pain to the therapist having gone too hard on him.

On Wednesday, he mentioned it again, but again dismissed it as a sore muscle. My father kept most of his discomfort to himself, as he did not want to worry anyone or disturb our vacation.

On Thursday morning, the other shoe dropped.

While attempting to eat breakfast in his room, my father was unable to hold the fork in his hand. He was now having great difficulty walking, and was complaining about dizziness.

He still stubbornly told my mother, Sharon, to go about her day and not worry about him. Thankfully, my mother is a bit stubborn herself, and she simply would not have it.

She immediately ran down the hall to my room, and began pounding on the door, telling me something was wrong with dad.

I went into his room and could see that she was right, something was wrong. I called for the on-site resort doctor to come to the room, and in a few minutes he did. He performed some quick tests with my dad, and took his vitals. He then told us, “well his vitals are good, but it could be a stroke. The only way to know is to go for testing at a hospital.”

My dad STILL said no. My mom again stepped up and redirected the plan — YES, he was going to get checked.

Here is where those who plan a trip to Mexico should beware.

My dad was taken to by taxi (there is no “911”) to the first hospital, a private facility that caters to tourists. He was told after having a CAT scan: Yes, you are having a stroke, and you need emergency surgery NOW.

They then asked my parents for $30,000 cash to start treating him. The cost could rise to $100,000, depending on his recovery, they said.

What people need to understand is that Mexico does not accept any American insurance. It’s a cash-upfront situation.

Not having access to that kind of money, my parents asked if there were any alternatives, at which time they were directed to the free public, government run hospital in Playa Del Carmen.

Thinking they could get the help my father needed, and not realizing the gravity of his situation, my parents asked to go there.

Then the nightmare got worse.

My father was transported by private ambulance to this public hospital, where I awaited his arrival. A surreal hellish experience then began to unfold.

The hospital was filthy dirty, complete with roaches running around the floor. The waiting room for the ER was packed with people. Not one person on site spoke any English.

After wheeling my father inside, they basically put him against a wall and let him lay there to die. No doctors came near him.

When he said that he needed to urinate, a nurse handed my mother a container.

This place was hell on earth. Several security guards tried, unsuccessfully, to remove us from my father. We were basically watching my father die and there was nothing we could do to stop it.

Finally, a doctor approached me, and in broken English, conveyed to me that there was nothing they could do.

“Call embassy,” he said.

I proceeded to call the United States Embassy in Playa Del Carmen, at which point an angel came into our lives.

Within twenty minutes, Samantha Mason, U.S. Consular, was standing in front of me. She calmly explained to us exactly what we needed to do.

She told us to immediately have my father moved an hour north to a private hospital in Cancun, the larger “Hospiten” facility. She said they would be able to save his life there but we needed to come up with the funds. She said they would accept credit cards.

Roughly an hour and a half later, my father was being wheeled into his third hospital of the day since learning his life was in serious jeopardy. Once there, an administrator met us at the door and asked us for $30,000 before they would even begin to treat my father.

I called VISA, and obtained emergency authorization for money, which they thankfully granted. Once my mother’s card was swiped, they began to work on my father.

We were informed that my father’s condition was dire and that he may not survive the surgery. To go from the celebratory highs of a great family vacation to this life-and-death horror within a period of eight hours was a surreal and life-altering experience that we will never forget.

Thankfully, my father did survive the surgery and, after five days in the intensive care unit, was given a “fit to fly” status by the doctor, in order to get him back on U.S. soil.

On Monday night, we accompanied my father on a medivac flight out of Cancun. We arrived at Teterboro airport at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, and from there, my father was transported directly to Hackensack University Medical Center, where he is doing well.

In all, between the costs of the medical expenses in Cancun, as well as the medivac flight, my parents have incurred about $90,000. While my father does have Medicare, as well as travel insurance, most of that debt will not be recovered.

That’s why my family is extremely appreciative of all the donations that have been made. Please know they are being put to good use to cover this tremendous expense.

This experience has taught us all the dangers and risks associated with traveling outside the country, and especially to Mexico.

I would encourage anyone thinking of traveling there to review the information on the website: It was started a few years ago by some parents who lost their 22-year-old son while he was vacationing in Cancun.

The U.S. State Department keeps records of all U.S. citizens who die abroad.

Alarmingly, 32% of them have died in Mexico.

Again, thank you all!
John T. Garland

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