For Juan Bautista Corzo Veloza, a 53 year old, father of three, life is not the same since that day in January 2013 when a stroke left him “dead for three days,” he says. He was changing a tire while performing his duty as a driver, a job to which he had dedicated himself after retiring from the National Police, when he began to feel a sharp pain in his chest along with a slow loss of consciousness.
A colleague took him to the Police Hospital, where Juan Bautista is entitled to be treated after many years of service in the institution. There he was initially prognosed with “sudden death”, but survived after numerous resuscitation attempts. The doctors’ suspicions that he might have Chagas disease got him transferred to the National Institute of Health-INS, which performs diagnostic tests and provides free treatment to those affected by the disease in the country. The result was positive.
Juan Bautista never presented any symptoms of the disease. Advanced heart disease is a late symptom in chronic patients, like himself: “If not for the heart attack, I wouldn’t even know that Chagas disease exists”, he said. Nothing is as it used to be: Before he was an active man, he worked hard. Today walking a few meters can cause fatigue, about 35% of his heart is totally damaged and he has a pacemaker since he suffered the stroke. Chagas has completely changed his life. “I do not have the same energy I used to” he says grimly.
Treatment was carried out with benznidazole, the first-line drug treatment, that lasts for 60 days, to eliminate the parasite from the blood. “This drug caused me many side affects: I had headaches, dizziness, weakness… but I endured it because it was for my own good and I was ready to do everything possible to kill that parasite.”
“You do not know how serious the disease is until you’ve suffered from it,” he explains. “When I knew I had it, I decided to fight to live on and I insisted that people know about Chagas so that they become conscious of it and can prevent it,” he adds.
Juan Bautista is grateful to the doctors and feels he had good quality treatment, but regrets that many other health institutions are limited in the diagnosis of “sudden death” without wondering what’s behind it.
Images © Fetze Weerstra