Health Care and Money

I am one of those who was and still am furious about our new health care system but sometimes it helps to keep things in perspective. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, going to the hospital in Iquitos can be a harrowing experience. Paying for services in advance, expected to supply your own medical supplies, sheets and food.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the community hospital. Here is a story from my friend Mike Collis of how the health system in Iquitos failed a wealthy American in need as it does many Peruvians.

By Mike  Collis –

In 1999 a new gringo arrived in Iquitos, Pierre Bouloyne, a retired judge from Georgia, USA. Pierre, a divorced man in his late sixties, had decided to devote his money and the rest of his life to helping the poor children of Iquitos.

He acquired some land just outside the city and started to build an orphanage for poor children. The substantial property would house up to two hundred children. The home was to be built on some 6 acres of land and would have gardens to grow fruits and vegetables along with a small chicken farm which the children would work and take the produce to market.

After a few setbacks, work started in the latter part of 1999 and by April 2000 was nearing completion. After a while Pierre decided to live on the property, mainly to guard the contents of the house. He lived with his handyman / watchman until one Saturday night in April 2000.

Pierre was taken ill and his handyman rushed him to the Iquitos Hospital where a doctor quickly diagnosed that he was having a heart attack, it was also found later that he had malaria. Pierre needed oxygen immediately. Here in Peru medicine and oxygen are not provided free. The oxygen would cost about $10US but Pierre had forgotten to bring any cash with him, although he had over $200,000 in the local bank, and the hospital had no facility to accept credit cards.

The handyman disappeared into the night to try and find the money. He never returned and Pierre now in a really bad way was left sitting on a chair in the corridor. At about 4 a.m. that April morning Pierre died without any treatment. The oxygen could have saved his life.

Myself and the other expats here were shocked and saddened about Pierre’s death especially as he seemed so fit and was always seen jogging around the city. His body was put into the city morgue where it stayed for 4 days. During those 4 days An american had contacted Pierre’s two daughters who said that their father had abandoned them to go to Peru to help poor children and that they had no interest in their father.

I remember that Thursday after Pierre’s death very well when I was told me that the morgue had phoned to say they no longer had any room for Pierre’s body and that the body had to be removed. We borrowed a pickup truck and went to the morgue where his naked body was lying on the floor covered in a sheet.

A friend pulled a few strings and Pierre was placed in the police morgue. Now we needed to give him a funeral. We contacted the American Embassy in Lima and told them about our predicament. They were very apologetic but said they had no budget to pay for the funerals of US citizens who die abroad.

What were we to do? At that time we had a unit of US Marines stationed in Iquitos so I spoke to the Commanding Officer, Colonel Mike Pierce and asked if he could help. He wanted to know about Pierre, then I remembered that couple of weeks earlier Pierre had been interviewed by “La Region” newspaper who had published an article about his service in the Marines.

I found a copy of the newspaper in the City Library and gave it to Colonel Pierce. After reading it carefully he jumped up and exclaimed “Once a Marine always a Marine!”

A few days later Pierre was given a full military funeral at the Central Cemetery with a unit of US Marines in full military dress and a 21 gun salute while a bugler played the “Last Post”. As the Stars and Stripes were removed from the coffin and Pierre was lowered gently into the grave Gerry and I gave a poor rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “I did it my way”. It was the first and only US military funeral in Iquitos. Over 100 mourners attended and the funeral was screened live on local TV.

Although Pierre had been in Iquitos for less than a year he surely had made a good name for himself as being a good man who was prepared to give all to help the underprivileged children of Iquitos. To my knowledge none of Pierre’s family have visited Iquitos or his grave since then and no one knows what happened to the nearly completed orphanage, its contents or the large amount of money Pierre had deposited in a local bank.

God Bless America and our health care system!