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Caught in the chaos in Venezuela

Story highlights

Skyrocketing inflation has created extreme shortages of food, medicine in Venezuela

A children's hospital in Caracas lacks even the basics: gloves, masks, antibiotics

CNN —  

Deivis Perez didn’t say how much pain he was in. His tears and splitting skin spelled it out.

The teenager needed dialysis treatments for his failing kidneys. But instead of aid, Deivis contracted a deadly bacterial infection called sepsis at a children’s hospital in Venezuela, a nation grappling with severe shortages of medicine and proper equipment amid a wider array of crises.

The water that the hospital used for Deivis’ dialysis machine wasn’t properly kept and filtered, doctors say, allowing bacteria to enter his bloodstream.

Deivis lost 22 pounds in his first two months in the hospital after starting his dialysis treatment. An ulcer in his throat made it too painful to eat solid food. A severe outbreak of dark spots covered his upper body, which created a burning sensation. His 14-year-old body shrank to that of a 7- or 8-year old.

Special coverage in Spanish: Crisis en Venezuela

When CNN met with Deivis and his mother, Sandra Galindez, in late July, he cried and buried his head in his hands.

“I want everyone to see what’s happening with us here. It’s not just what you’re seeing on TV: the protests, the clashes. We are in the hospital suffering,” said Galindez, a single mother with two other young adult children.

Galindez gave up her job to take care of Deivis. He couldn’t sleep through most nights, so she often got only three to four hours rest at a time.

Deivis suffered for three more weeks before dying the night of August 17 after going into respiratory shock.

After his death, Galindez was overwhelmed with “sadness, anger, an enormous emptiness in my heart, in my soul.”

“It really hurts knowing that you bring your son (to the hospital) for one thing, he gets worse from others, then you get him back in a box,” she said.

Deivis Perez's 14-year-old body shrank to that of younger child.
Patrick Gillespie
Deivis Perez's 14-year-old body shrank to that of younger child.

Venezuela is in its own crisis. Skyrocketing inflation has created extreme shortages of food, medicine and other essentials. A political crisis peaked in July when President Nicolas Maduro replaced the opposition-controlled legislature with an entirely new legislature filled only with his supporters. Several governments, including that of the United States, have labeled Maduro’s regime a dictatorship.

Deivis was one of eight children to die this year just in the dialysis ward at the public children’s hospital. Last year, only three children died in the dialysis unit at Hospital de Niños J.M. de los Rios in Caracas.

Deivis wasn’t the only child infected by the bacterial outbreak in the dialysis unit at this hospital. At least four children died as a direct result of the infection, according to the head of the nephrology unit, Dr. Belen Arteaga. The other four died from complications related to their renal illness.

What’s next for Venezuela: Crisis and isolation

The quality of the care Deivis received is a point of contention between Arteaga and Galindez. Arteaga says that the hospital isolated the infected children and stopped the outbreak’s spread and that Deivis’ bacterial infection was stabilized. She says the hospital had blood for a transfusion to give him and even had the right catheter. But the hospital didn’t have a functioning operating room where the catheter could be replaced. Arteaga noted that Deivis’ body didn’t respond well to the transfusions he received early in his hospital stay.

After his death, Deivis' mother felt "an enormous emptiness in my heart, in my soul."
Sandra Galindez
After his death, Deivis' mother felt "an enormous emptiness in my heart, in my soul."

Galindez blames the hospital and Venezuela’s health ministry, which oversees public hospitals. She says neither did anything as she alerted hospital staff that Deivis’ condition was deteriorating.

Venezuela’s health ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Arteaga acknowledges that the hospital lacks even the basics: gloves, masks, antibiotics and resources for certain operations, such as replacing a catheter for a blood transfusion.

Most of its medicines and supplies come from foreign nongovernmental organizations and foundations.

Venezuela’s health ministry hasn’t responded to many of the hospital’s requests for supplies, Arteaga says.

“If we don’t offer everything that they truly need to get better, the mortality rate will undoubtedly go up,” she said. “We don’t even have emergency surgical rooms.”

Venezuela: How a rich country collapsed

Galindez says she found a matching kidney for Deivis last summer. But it was a futile search: Kidney replacements for children haven’t happened since April because the hospital doesn’t have the resources to perform the operation. Functional filters for dialysis machines are also hard to come by.

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Sadly, Deivis’ death is one of many in Venezuela’s spiraling humanitarian crisis. Malaria cases soared to 240,000 in 2016, a 76% increase over 2015, according to a rare release in May of records from the health ministry.

That’s telling: Venezuela eradicated malaria in its most populated states by 1961, according to the World Health Organization.

Maternal deaths in Venezuela rose 66% last year to 756. Infant deaths shot up to 11,466, a 30% jump.

Venezuela’s hyperinflation is jaw-dropping. See for yourself

Maduro has both rejected foreign aid and called for medical relief, though the situation on the ground shows no signs of changing. Some outside experts speculate that if the government accepted the aid, it would be acknowledging that it can’t solve its crises on its own.

What Galindez would say to Maduro after losing her son: “Resolve all the crises in the country – and if he doesn’t feel prepared to do that, then simply hand over power.”

CNN’s Natalie Gallon contributed to this report.