The man, known all these years as “Garage 66,” is severely brain damaged and on life support. He cannot speak and does not react to his environment. Little was known of his life.
The hospital’s Villa Coronado Skilled Nursing Facility has been his home since 1999, when a car accident left him fighting for his life.
On Friday, the Mexican Consulate in San Diego announced that a collaboration of medics, immigration authorities, politicians and educators had discovered the man’s identity.
Due to confidentiality laws protecting patient information, Sharp HealthCare said it could not disclose the patient’s name, details of his condition or the circumstances of the accident. The man’s family members said they won’t address the media and have asked that their privacy be respected, according to the consulate.
“But his Sharp caregivers can now address him by name, and we are all celebrating the dignity afforded a person who has an identity and a history, as well as the peace of mind afforded a family who for many years has not known the condition or fate of their loved one,” said spokesman Tom Hanscom.
Several families came forward believing the patient to be a long-lost relative, according to Hanscom. A committee made up of community and government officials administered biometric testing and DNA matches were confirmed in December, he said.
The hospital worked with local media in 2014 to make the patient’s story public in an effort to locate family members.
The man, believed to be in his mid-30s, was in a van when it crashed near the U.S.-Mexico border near El Centro, according to the investigative news outlet, inewsource. He was ejected from the vehicle.
The patient was transferred to the UC San Diego trauma center in Hillcrest, where he spent one year in the hospital, inewsource reported. That’s where he was assigned the random name, “Garage 66,” a common practice for patients who are not alert or awake and have no identification, a hospital spokesperson told the publication.
Garage’s medical care — estimated at $700 per day — has been funded through Medi-Cal, California’s program for the impoverished and the disabled, according to inewsource.
Enrique Morones, founder of the immigrant rights organization Border Angels, first learned of Garage 66 last year and was involved in the binational efforts to locate his family. He got a call on Friday morning with news of the patient’s identity.
“I was just overjoyed,” he said.
But Morones said more light needs to be shed on the thousands of people who go missing at the border and are never reunited with family.
“There are a lot of Garage 66s out there. Maybe it’s not a 16-year old case, maybe it’s a 6-day old case. But there’s a mom who still wants to know, ‘did my son make it?’”. “This is going to give a lot of people hope.”
Source: The San Diego Union Tribune