Guatemalan Army Engineer Soldiers On after Accident
By Geraldine Cook January 12, 2016
Second Lieutenant Luis Gustavo Girón Salazar, with the Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers, is moving forward with his career and his life despite losing his hands during a mission to help earthquake victims.
Second Lieutenant Luis Gustavo Girón Salazar, with the Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers, is moving forward in his career and personal life after losing his hands during a mission in which he saved the lives of a group of earthquake victims.
He is tenacious, optimistic, and full of energy – and is considered a hero and an inspiration by many of his colleagues, friends, and family members.
“At work, he strives to perform the same activities he did before losing his hands, and he always asks that he be given no special treatment,” Colonel Luis Miguel Rada, the Corps of Engineers’ commanding officer, told Diálogo
. “We have a flesh-and-blood hero.”
On January 14, 2014, 2nd Lt. Girón saw a fence was about to fall on residents whose homes had been damaged by an earthquake in the department of Quetzaltenango. He had been helping earthquake victims with the Guatemalan Army’s Corps of Engineers, and grabbed the fence before it struck the group.
However, the fence was electrified, and the current was so strong it launched him into the air. The blow 2nd Lt. Girón took to the head when he fell knocked him unconscious for six days before he woke up at the Military Medical Center, where he was also being treated for fourth-degree burns.
Zoila Salazar, 2nd Lt. Girón Salazar’s mother, recounted those days were filled with agony for her. “When I arrived, they told me that they would do everything they could to save his hands,” she recalled.
Second Lt. Girón Salazar’s doctors delivered a grim prognosis. They said he would have brain damage and problems with his heart, liver, and lungs, and his kidneys could fail because the electrical shock had removed the water from his body.
A second chance
“I asked God to give him a second chance because my son was practically dead,” Salazar said. “I clung to the hope that my son would live, even though I had doubts when I saw him so disfigured. I prayed and asked God to either make him healthy, or to take him as he was.”
She agreed to allow doctors to amputate her son’s left hand. But during the procedure, the surgeons realized 2nd Lt. Girón Salazar’s right hand would also have to be amputated because it was burned so badly.
Salazar worried how her son would react when he awoke from the surgery, but he was more concerned about his responsibilities than his loss. The first thing he did was look for his cellphone so he could continue to work, still unaware of what had happened.
“Out of the 24 hours in a day, I spent 10 on the phone coordinating with institutions and persons who needed help,” 2nd Lt. Girón said.
He did not focus on his loss. Instead, he felt joy in seeing his parents, who had separated years earlier, together at the hospital. During his hospital stay, 2nd Lt. Girón had plenty of visitors. “Sometimes they (doctors, nurses, and some of his visitors) joked that I should lend a few of my visitors to other patients whose family members could not make it to see them right away,” he said.
His selfless spirit shone through as he received many gifts from his visitors, including canned juice, cookies, toilet paper, and toothpaste. He knew that he would not use it all, so he put many of the items in bags and gave them to patients whose families lived far away and could not visit them often.
Dealing with daily life
Sixty-four days after the accident, 2nd Lt. Girón left the hospital. When he arrived home, he pushed himself to find a better way to take care of himself after acknowledging his injuries had made him less independent. Within a few days he learn how to eat without the use of his hands, and later learned how to use his feet to use the remote for the TV before mastering the skill with his stumps.
A week after returning home, 2nd Lt. Girón drove his car. The next week, he drove it to his first doctor’s appointment with his mother as a passenger.
Though 2nd Lt. Girón was quick to relearn how to dress himself, he still needs help with buttons. But his mother does not assist him any longer; that task is now done by his wife, Karla Hernández, who was his girlfriend at the time of the accident.
Second Lt. Girón’s disability does not prevent him from showing his daughter Briana affection either, as he carries and caresses her every time he is with her.
Five months after the accident, 2nd Lt. Girón returned to work, where his first task was to deliver a lecture on the rebuilding efforts at the National Coordinator for Disaster Response (CONRED, for its Spanish acronym). He also received hook prosthetics, which help him perform many mechanical tasks, but he relies on his stumps for other activities, such as eating and writing.
Today, 2nd Lt. Girón lives a life with no limitations – at work and home. He drives a stick-shift automobile, makes calls on his cellphone, and paints his house with the same skill he had before the accident.
Now, two years later, he is in charge of logistics for many of the Corps of Engineers’ activities.
The Army assists earthquake victims
The Army engineer was injured while participating in a massive response by the Guatemalan Armed Forces two years after the November 7, 2012 earthquake that measured 7.4 on the Richter scale. The earthquake destroyed 1,860 homes and damaged 3,412 others. The Armed Forces have rebuilt 5,011 homes destroyed or damaged by the earthquake.
The earthquake caused major damage in the departments of San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Sololá, Totonicapán, Retalhuleu, Quiché, Huehuetenango, and Suchitepéquez, according to the Guatemalan National Coordination Office for Disaster Reduction (Conred). The quake also destroyed schools and roadways.
Personnel from the Army Corps of Engineers responded the same day of the earthquake, and continued to work for more than a year rebuilding homes that had crumbled completely or were damaged in eight highly affected locations.
Sometimes we waste our energy and time on things that aren’t important. When we’re perfectly healthy we complain; there is no doubt that a person’s greatest obstacle is their mind and their willingness, therefore we have to show gratitude to God every day