On Saturday, April 16, at 6:30 p.m., families were cooking dinner, children were playing outside, and most were enjoying their normal weekend routine. They had no idea that this Saturday evening would soon deliver a devastating and deadly jolt.
Just before 7:00 p.m., a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the northern coast of Ecuador. It claimed 660 lives, injured more than 4,500 people, and leveled thousands of buildings.
On that Saturday evening, 7-year-old Marielena Rodriguez was playing at the park with her cousins just like she does every weekend. She was riding her bike when the ground began to violently shake, causing a cement wall to collapse on top of her. She was pinned underneath.
When her cousins saw her lying under a pile of rubble, they thought she was dead. They took off running to Marielena’s house two blocks away to tell her parents, Banner and Eugenia, what had happened.
“I felt desperate. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t because I had to be strong for my wife,” Banner said.
Hearing the news, Banner and Eugenia ran to the park, but when they arrived, their little girl was nowhere in sight. They searched and searched for Marielena, calling her name in desperation. They looked all over the city for her and went from hospital to hospital, repeating their daughter’s description—“7-year-old girl with brown hair and brown eyes”—over and over again. As the hours ticked by, they refused to give up.
“I felt desperate. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t because I had to be strong for my wife,” Banner said. “My wife almost went crazy as we went to many hospitals.”
After nine hours of searching, they finally found her.
In the chaos of the earthquake, Marielena was taken to a hospital in Chone, 30 minutes from her home in Flavo Fairo. Banner and Eugenia had already checked at this hospital five times, but on their sixth visit a guard recognized Marielena’s description and took them to their daughter.
“My soul came back to me,” Banner said.
Banner, Eugenia, and Marielena hugged and cried as they celebrated being reunited.
The hospital, overwhelmed by so many earthquake victims, could do little to treat Marielena. But then the Rodriguez family heard about a nearby emergency field hospital established by Samaritan‘s Purse—they hoped someone there could help their daughter.
At our emergency field hospital, doctors performed X-rays and found that Marielena sustained several fractures in her left femur, which required surgery.
Dr. Leland McCluskey, an experienced orthopedic surgeon, performed the surgery and inserted several pins into her femur to set the leg in place.
While Marielena was in surgery, her mom became very sick. Medical staff took Eugenia to the emergency room where they discovered she was malnourished, had bilateral pneumonia, and suffered from a chronic lung disease.
The news of her own sickness coupled with her daughter’s surgery was too much for Eugenia. She had a panic attack.
Doctors and nurses rushed into action, meeting Eugenia in her time of need.
While medical staff attended to her physical needs, one of our nurses stepped out of the hustle and began to lovingly stroke Eugenia’s hair. Kelly Sites, from Michigan, prayed over Eugenia and encouraged her to breathe calmly. Slowly, her heart rate regained its normal rhythm, her cramped fingers started to unfurl, and her dazed eyes began to focus on the people in the room.
“I can’t even imagine going through something like this. The magnitude of the damage—houses crumbled,” said Justin Dennery, a nurse practitioner who served at our field hospital. “With everything falling on her at once, she went into a state of panic.”
“I can’t even imagine going through something like this. The magnitude of the damage—houses crumbled,” said Justin Dennery.
“She was in a moment of despair,” said Edgar Straube, a Samaritan’s Purse chaplain. Edgar patiently sat by Eugenia’s bedside after the panic attack, speaking soothing words and spoon-feeding her soup. He then felt the Holy Spirit prompt him that it was time to lead her to Christ.
In the middle of a busy emergency room, Edgar shared the love of Jesus with Eugenia and walked her through the steps to repentance. In the most unlikely place, Eugenia identified her need for a Savior and accepted Jesus.
“It’s almost like I felt [Jesus] say, ‘Come and receive me’,” Eugenia said.
In the rush of it all, the staff remained focused on the heart of why we serve in Ecuador. They remembered to slow down and love their patients with a love that can come only from Jesus Christ.
On the other side of the hospital, Marielena came out of surgery to hear the news that her mom was also sick.
Precious Marielena lay curled on her side in the hospital bed clutching her cherished pink doll—the only thing familiar in the hospital built of tents. Samaritan’s Purse staff again thought creatively, finding ways to connect with Marielena and cheer her up despite the language barrier.
One nurse began to draw flowers and designs on Marielena’s cast. Then another staff member asked her silly questions and played with her doll. Slowly Marielena’s tears turned to smiles and laughter—a universal language.
Later that afternoon, Marielena’s father arrived at the hospital after a long shift at work. When he walked into the ward, Marielena’s face lit up and she threw her arms around his neck. “Poppy!” she exclaimed.
A few hours later, doctors decided that Eugenia was healthy enough to go sit by her daughter’s bedside for a visit. For the second time that week, the Rodriguez family was once again reunited, but this time there was a difference. Eugenia is now a child of God. She said, “I want to tell my kids to receive Christ with all of their hearts.”
“I called to Jesus, and He touched my heart and helped me in my moment of distress,” Eugenia said.
For nine hours, Eugenia and her husband had searched for their daughter and feared the worst. With tears in her eyes, she said, “I thought she was dead.”
Now, by the grace of God, Eugenia not only found her daughter, but she found faith in Jesus Christ. “I called to Jesus, and He touched my heart and helped me in my moment of distress,” Eugenia said.
This family’s story is just a small glimpse into the work Samaritan’s Purse is doing in Ecuador. In the first two weeks, Samaritan’s Purse medical staff treated more than 400 patients and performed 105 surgeries. Every day, new patients are being admitted to the emergency field hospital, and lives are being touched.
In addition to providing emergency medical care, Samaritan’s Purse has distributed thousands of hygiene kits, household water filters, and tarps. We have also installed a water filtration unit at the hospital in Jama, Ecuador. This supplies clean water to some 200 people at the hospital daily as well as provides a trusted water source to thousands in the community.
Eugenia found faith in the aftermath of the quake, and we pray that doors will continue to open for our staff to share the Gospel with the people of Ecuador.