Quelino Ojeda Jimenez, who needed a ventilator to breathe, suffered two episodes of cardiac arrest in that facility as well as developing bedsores and a septic infection, officials said.
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JuchitÃ¡n de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, Mexico
Ojeda was buried Tuesday in Monte Negro, the small town where his grandmother lives.
"He never even made it to his home," said Jesus Vargas, a Chicago man who had kept in touch with Ojeda and his family in Mexico. "He was always in the hospital stuck to the machine that helped him breathe."
The Tribune wrote about Ojeda's case last year after Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn returned him to Mexico just after Christmas 2010, drawing fierce criticism in Chicago's tight-knit Mexican community.
As word of Ojeda's death spread among those who rallied in his support last year, many said they believe Ojeda would still be alive if he had remained in the U.S.
"The removal of Quelino from a medical facility in the USA could have possibly contributed to his physical decline and ultimately his death. He would have never received the same treatment in a Mexican hospital as he did here in Illinois," said Julie Contreras, national immigrant affairs commissioner for the League of United Latin American Citizens, a Latino rights organization working with Advocate Health Care to create repatriation policies for the large hospital group.
Ojeda came to the U.S. illegally about five years ago looking for work to help his Mexican family — a common-law wife, a daughter, six sisters and his impoverished parents, who live in a small town of wood and straw-roofed homes in the mountains. He arrived in Chicago in August 2010 and began working in construction on a building near Midway Airport.
There, Ojeda told the Tribune last year, he pulled hard on a sheet of metal he needed to remove, thinking it was secured by nails. It wasn't, and he fell backward more than 20 feet to the ground.
He remained in the Oak Lawn hospital until Dec. 22, 2010, when he was ushered to an air ambulance that took him to the Mexican city of Oaxaca.
"They told me, 'Today you are going to your home,'" Ojeda told the Tribune, who recalled being struck with terror and unable to get words out. "I wanted to say something, but I couldn't talk. I wanted to ask why."
Amid criticism for its actions in Ojeda's case, Advocate Health Care expressed regret for its handling of the process. On Tuesday, the organization issued a statement saying that it is working with advocacy groups to improve its policies on international transfers.
"Our prayers are with the family of Quelino Ojeda Jimenez as they mourn his loss," the statement said. "As a healing ministry, our top priority is to provide the highest quality of care for the patients and communities we serve."
After arriving at a hospital in the city of Oaxaca, Ojeda was transferred to Maria Lombardo de Caso General Hospital, a one-story concrete facility in a small town in Oaxaca state that lacked necessary supplies. The hospital couldn't afford new filters for his ventilator and would simply clean them daily. On Dec. 19, he was transferred to the larger hospital in Juchitan, a more developed community, Ramirez said.
Sixto de la O Lopez, Ojeda's uncle, said his nephew was fragile but getting better. His spirits remained flat, though he was happy that his uncle and other relatives traveled from their rural villages to spend time by his side.
On Saturday night, after a meal of eggs, Lopez told his nephew: "Son, when the new year comes I'll come see you," Lopez recalled. "He was happy, he said 'yes.'"
But hours later, as Lopez rested in the waiting room, he learned his nephew had stopped breathing.
Friends and family said they wished Ojeda could have stayed in the U.S. for prolonged treatment. Ojeda himself said the same, telling the Tribune in February: "I didn't want to come back ... because here there's no medicine. ... I need therapy, I need a lot of things and they don't have."
Until his death, a photo of Ojeda sitting in a wheelchair surrounded by the doctors, nurses and therapists who cared for him at Advocate Christ hung in his hospital room in Mexico, Lopez said.