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Colombia: Juan’s fight for life

24-04-2013 Feature

Carmen* came out of the kitchen when she heard the commotion and saw her son lying on the ground covered in blood, taking what she thought was his last breath. She picked him up and began to run without stopping – she does not know exactly how long, but it was several hours – until she found someone to help her.

Her son Juan*, who had turned seven on that very same day, had been caught in the blast of a device that almost cost him his life. It shattered the tranquillity of the farm where they lived in Catatumbo (Norte de Santander), an eight-hour drive from Ocaña “and then another three on foot.” Carmen ran these three hours barefoot, carrying her son in her arms. It was only when she reached the village that she found transport to take them to Ocaña, where Juan received first aid.

The ICRC arranged an emergency transfer in an Air Force medical plane to take the boy to Bogotá, where he was admitted to the burns unit at the Simón Bolívar hospital. The medical prognosis that they were given when they got there was not promising. “They would have to amputate his right hand and his left foot.” He had also lost an eye and his body was full of shrapnel. On the day that Juan woke up in the hospital, bandaged from head to foot, he could not see. Carmen was overwhelmed with grief when Juan desperately asked her to turn on the light.

However, the story took a surprising turn, as Juan continued to fight for his life and began to recover. His wounds healed and there was no need to amputate. “Seeing him fighting for his life gave me strength,” said his mother. Juan was fitted with an ocular prosthesis in the eye that he had lost and, in the other, he had a cornea transplant at the Barraquer Clinic. Although he has not regained his sight completely, there are hopes that he will be able to see again soon.

Carmen also received support from an ICRC psychologist, who showed her how to cope with her fears and become more confident, as well as helping her with more mundane matters, such as taking the bus from the hostel to the hospital.

The ICRC provided financial support for accommodation, transport, food and medicines and advice on how to apply for the State benefits to which weapon-contamination victims are entitled. In this case, they were also eligible for benefits as displaced persons, as Carmen and her children were unable to return to the same farm.

Today Juan is still fighting. The shrapnel has left him with wounds all over his body, but in time they will heal. The most important thing is that he is beginning to get over the trauma of what happened, which to begin with had left him unable to speak. Now he runs around and plays and will be able to celebrate his next birthday with his brothers and sisters.

* Names changed


Colombia activity report 2012


Bogotá, December 2012. Juan, a child victim of weapon contamination, and his mother receive ongoing ICRC support. 

Bogotá, December 2012. Juan, a child victim of weapon contamination, and his mother receive ongoing ICRC support.
© ICRC / E. Alfonso