A heartwarming story
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|Tue, 09-23-2003 - 10:01pm|
'Miracle Children' turn 18
WILL WEISSERT; The Associated Press
MEXICO CITY - The "Miracle Children" are children no more.
The 14 newborns provided inspiration and hope to a devastated capital
when they were rescued after days buried in the rubble of Mexico City's
1985 earthquake. This week, they are turning 18, a happy denouement to a
tragic tale and perhaps a quieter sort of inspiration.
They bear wounds and scars and live in a very different country than the
one wracked by the 8.1-magnitude temblor on Sept. 19, 1985.
Jesus Antonio Castillo was four days old and lying in an incubator in
Juarez General Hospital awaiting a checkup for hepatitis when the quake
struck at 7:19 a.m. Nine days later, rescue workers had lost hope
finding survivors and were bringing bulldozers to clear the rubble.
"My father told them, 'Hold off until day 10. My baby is waiting to be
discovered,'" said Castillo as he celebrated his 18th birthday on
He was found wedged underneath a crumpled ceiling column where he had
spend the past 235 hours. Castillo was the last of 16 newborns rescued
from the remains of Juarez General and a second hospital leveled by the
Two of the newborns pulled from the rubble later died - one of them a
girl whose weak wailing led rescuers to Castillo, trapped just 8 inches
away, but too feeble to cry.
"I think about her sometimes. She died, but she saved me," Castillo said
during an interview in his kitchen, his wife and grandmother by his side
and his golden cocker spaniel peeking out from under a nearby bed.
Castillo married his high school sweetheart last year. He drives trucks
for a building materials company owned by his uncle, and he and his wife
live in a two-room cinderblock home.
Perched on the city's southernmost outskirts, theirs is a neighborhood
that's greener than most, dotted with small parks and vacant lots where
families grow undersized stalks of corn. Ask anyone around here: They
all know the tale of "God's child, little Jesus Antonio."
Castillo didn't open his eyes until nine days after he was rescued, and
he spent three months in intensive care before regaining enough strength
to go home.
"When we first went to see him, he was in very grave condition," said
Castillo's grandmother, 63-year-old Catalina Morales. "He couldn't see,
couldn't make a sound, almost couldn't breathe. His legs, his arms, all
of his little body was crushed."
The quake left Castillo with jagged but small scars from head to toe and
a golf-ball-size indentation in his back where falling debris punctured
one of his lungs.
He goes to the hospital for regular checkups once a year, but like
nearly all of the other surviving newborns, he escaped with almost no
long-term injuries. His lung healed so well that he became a star
forward on a local soccer team while in high school.
Donations poured in from across Mexico and around the world in the weeks
following the quake. Officials were able to establish a fund that should
cover the group's medical costs until each of the survivors turn 30.
Every Sept. 19, Castillo and most of his family go to Mass to celebrate
his survival. Until he was 10, he always went dressed as a different
saint and sat beside the doctor who was among a team of rescue workers
who pulled him to safety.
"It still scares me to think about this tiny child trapped there without
food or water," his grandmother said. "We weren't sure he'd survive, but
the doctor who found him said, 'God saved him, and I won't lose him.'"
The last time Castillo saw that doctor, Arturo Chavez, was when
President Vicente Fox invited him and the other surviving newborns to
the presidential residence last year.
Many here believe Fox's 2000 election as the first opposition candidate
ever to win Mexico's presidency was, in part, another of the quake's
Disgusted by the government's tardy response to the disaster, civic and
neighborhood groups sprung up to take over rescue and clean-up work.
That brought about a new involvement in public life and politics among
masses of people used to simply tolerating decades of one-party rule,
and eventually fueled pressure for political reform.
Since then, building standards have been tightened and earthquake alarms
Claudia Isabel Rios, who also turned 18 this week, said at a news
conference Thursday that she has seen news footage of her rescue from
the other medical center destroyed in the quake, the Federico Gomez
Children's Hospital, dozens of times.
"You look at the destruction and you say 'I can't believe I survived,'"
said Rios, whose mother was in the same hospital wing but was killed
when the building collapsed. "It's really a miracle, but I consider
myself normal, just like all of us do."
Castillo, who has been telling journalists his story every Sept. 19
since he was old enough to speak, said he is "famous for sad reasons."
"I feel fortunate to have turned 18 and to be an adult," he said. "But I
feel fortunate to have every day of my life. I received an opportunity
that thousands of others didn't and I will never forget that."