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article imageCastaway likely suffering post-traumatic stress, says doctor

By Giff Johnson (AFP)     Feb 8, 2014 in World

A castaway who says he survived 13 months adrift in the Pacific appears to be suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome, a doctor said on Saturday, as officials confirmed he had been living in Mexico illegally.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga, a fisherman from El Salvador, washed up on a remote Pacific atoll over a week ago, telling a remarkable story of floating 12,500 kilometres (8,000 miles) from Mexico in his 24-foot boat after the engine broke.

He initially appeared to be in good spirits and reasonable health, but he has been in and out of hospital since being brought to the Marshall Islands capital Majuro last Monday.

At a media conference on Thursday, the 37-year-old was sullen and uncomfortable, mumbling a short thank-you to people in the Marshalls before departing the venue clutching two men for support.

Heading home after epic voyage
Heading home after epic voyage
, Graphic/AFP

Franklyn House, a retired American doctor working with the California-based Canvasback Missions group in the Marshall Islands, has observed and spoken with Alvarenga several times since his arrival, although he is not the attending physician.

Fluent in Spanish, House said he believes Alvarenga is suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome because of the change in his demeanour from Monday when he was engaged with doctors to being withdrawn on Thursday.

"The first couple of days he was in the hospital, he was engaged and normal," House told AFP. "Thursday he showed signs of post-traumatic stress."

A diplomat from El Salvador's embassy in Japan, Diego Dalton, met with the castaway and "confirmed that the health of Mr Alvarenga is broken", the country's foreign ministry said in a statement.

"His physical condition has to improve for him to begin the return trip, which does not have a defined date," it added.

Despite the concern, the chief of medical staff at Majuro Hospital Kennar Briand said on Saturday evening that he was getting better.

Jose Salvador Alvarenga (C) arrives for a press conference in Majuro  Marshall Islands  on February ...
Jose Salvador Alvarenga (C) arrives for a press conference in Majuro, Marshall Islands, on February 6, 2014
-, AFP/File

"His last blood tests were normal," said Briand, who was briefed by his primary doctor. "He's clearly improving. Based on the last assessment, he's stable and no longer dehydrated."

Alvarenga was due to leave on Friday for El Salvador via Hawaii, but he was told to rest. This means the earliest he is expected to depart is on a flight to Honolulu on Monday night. The next flight is not until Wednesday.

Alvarenga, who said he survived on a diet of raw fish and birds while drinking turtle blood, urine and rainwater, is also suffering from back and leg problems.

"He was readmitted Thursday because of pain in his back and legs," said a nurse at Majuro Hospital, who asked not to be named.

"He was not really coherent. But he was talking clearly when he was discharged Friday."

While Alvarenga is from El Salvador, he began his ill-fated shark fishing trip from Mexico, where he had lived for years.

The claimed boat of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga of El Salvador shortly after his Januar...
The claimed boat of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga of El Salvador shortly after his January 30 arrival on the remote Ebon Atoll in the Marshall Islands, February 6, 2014

Manila-based Mexican diplomat Christian Clay Mendez, who jetted in to help handle Alvarenga's repatriation, said he had been in Mexico illegally for 15 years, which is why he would go back to El Salvador.

But he said that if after his return to El Salvador, he "goes through the proper channels, I'm sure that our embassy people in El Salvador would be more than willing to assist in getting him to Mexico legally".

"We'd be willing to look into that," he added.

Media interest in his ordeal has been global, and the El Salvador foreign ministry said Alvarenga now wanted to be left alone.

"Following the events that he lived through, Mr Jose Salvador Alvarenga has asked for privacy to overcome this experience," the ministry's communications chief Irene Sanchez told AFP.

"He wants privacy and does not want to see the media" when he returns, she said, adding that Alvarenga's family had also asked to be left alone.

More about Marshalls, Mexico, Salvador, Survival, Transport
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