A Wound that Won't Go Away: The Story of Daniel Infante
It’s a miracle that Daniel Infante is still alive. The bullet wound in his head means that the 26-year-old is unable to open his eyes, speak, or move. He can only breathe. The event that put him in this state occurred on April 24, 2017, the date of the first mass protest against Nicolás Maduro. It happened in the state of Mérida. What most likely happened is that a government sympathizer shot at him as part of an attempt to violently suppress the protest.
Daniel was not part of the demonstration, but he lives in a building barely 50 meters from where the political gathering took place—Las Américas Avenue in the Mérida state capital. That Monday, when he heard first the first explosions outside his home, he left his apartment and came out onto the street. He was greeted by a bullet that hit him in the head, on the right side of his brain. As he fell to the ground, his new life began—a life reduced to mere vital signs.
During the four months of intense protests that took place in Venezuela between April and July 2017, there were 157 deaths and more than 5,000 detentions. These are the figures that are most frequently cited. But there is another that is even higher: the number of the wounded. A year later, little is known about them.
Daniel is one of these victims. At the time he was shot he was a 26-year-old revenue supervisor for a state-owned public transit company, TroleBus Mérida. His sister Diana Infante remembers that after he was shot, the firefighters arrived in less than ten minutes and transported her brother straight to the University Hospital of Mérida, where he was hospitalized from April until September.
“When I saw him laying on the ground with a gunshot wound in his head, I touched him and could feel that he was still warm. I didn’t check his vital signs, but something told me he was still alive. I decided to leave my daughters with my mother and I went with my husband to the hospital. When I was there a fireman told me not to leave the emergency ward because if they found out that Daniel was an opponent of the government, they’d let him die—those were the orders. So I stayed there until they started to care for him,” she relates.
In the operating room, specialists removed the entire right side of his skull, but decided to leave the bullet in his brain “because it would have caused more damage to remove it than to leave it in,” Diana says.
From then on, Daniel has lived life confined to his bed, without the ability to move, unresponsive to any stimulus, going through nine and eleven diapers per day, ingesting only liquids and attached to a gastrosomy tube.
His sister, who also takes care of her home, her husband, her daughters, and her mother, has assumed the care of Daniel as well. The work is very complicated, all the more so because she cannot obtain the medications, nutritional products, diapers, and mattress protectors her patient needs, and because of the frustration of not being able to afford the therapies that her brother needs to further his recuperation.
Daniel needs, on average, 60 packages of diapers per month. He also needs vials of Botox prescribed to relax his muscles and allow him to stretch out his extremities, but each one costs $380, and Venezuela’s minimum wage is only $2 a month. Daniel’s liquid diet consists primarily of products like Pediasure and Ensure, which, since they are always imported, are also priced in dollars. In addition, for the rest of his life he will need to take valproic acid (an anticonvulsive), pregabalin, folic acid, vitamin C, B vitamins, and clonazepam to sleep at night.
“He’s been ordered to do six hours daily of therapy, but we can only pay for three. My mother is 100 percent dedicated to him because when Daniel doesn’t see her he goes into a fit of crying. Which at least means that he’s conscious,” Diana explains. One year after the event, she displays emotional scars. She speaks about how their life has been changed, and breaks into tears saying that she misses her brother. “I want him back,” she says.
But they’re not throwing in the towel. The family has started a dollar fundraising campaign called “Salva Mi Vida” (Save My Life). They hope to raise enough money through crowdfunding to remove Daniel from Venezuela and get him care in another country. Their aim is $80,000; they have only raised a little more than $2,000, two percent of the goal. They’re still asking for aid, not only in money, but in consumables.
Meanwhile, Diana has complaints about the doctors who have been caring for her brother. She insists that not one has given her a precise diagnosis nor a prognosis. “The only thing we know is that he has brain damage because he doesn’t talk, move, or communicate in any way. When we ask him if he’s in pain, he doesn’t respond. But he did before, at least through signs, but then he had a convulsion and since then he hasn’t done it again,” she says.
Not even Diana is trying to figure out who is responsible at this point. She states that at one point the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigation Service Corps (CICPC) came to their home and accused another young opponent of the government who lived in the same building of being responsible for the act. The Infante family doesn’t believe it—they insist that the armed faction in the street that day was the Tupamaros (a pro-government "colectivo" militia). The neighbor accused by the authorities of being responsible left the country, and Diana has lost contact with him.
The other battle this young woman wants to wage is to publicize what happened to her brother on an international level. The shot that changed his life, the lack of justice, the inaction of state authorities charged with providing him medicine, rehabilitation, and nutrition for his recuperation are all part of the long list of human rights violations that this Venezuelan family has suffered.
“The world has to know that during the repression people were not only killed, locked up on political grounds, and tortured, but also wounded,” she says. Others call them casualties of war.
This piece was originally published at TalCual. Translation: VOC.