Ayatka Wuikot Tlatuan is the Native American name given to Edgar Flores, a 48-year-old Mexico City native who was born into two tribes. His mother Aztec and father Apache Indian. Just over two years ago, Edgar developed appendicitis and underwent an emergency operation to remove his appendix. What happened next truly shocked him.
“I thought the operation had gone smoothly, but within a few days I began to experience severe stomach pain and felt very weak,” he said. As the situation went from bad to worse, Edgar was rushed to the hospital where an ER surgeon discovered that his abdomen was filling with blood. He was hemorrhaging from the inside.
Edgar was transferred to a larger, more specialized hospital in Mexico City which was better suited to handle the severity of his case. He remembers that morning very clearly saying, “It was August 1, 2016 when my doctor placed an NG tube through my nose and into my stomach. He told me I needed to be intubated because I lost too much blood and was gasping for air.” Surgeons decided they couldn’t operate on him right away because his body was too weak to withstand anesthesia or an operation.
During his hospitalization, Edgar fell into a coma where he remained in a vegetative state for nearly a month. He remembers many things from that time. “There was only white light, no walls, and no ceiling,” he said. “I asked questions as to where I was but never received a response. I felt like I was freefalling into this white light until I finally woke up.” Due to further complications from the appendectomy, permanent ileostomy surgery was needed to save his life. Edgar regained consciousness on August 24, 2016 and immediately became aware of the stoma on his stomach. But there was no time to focus on the ostomy because he developed pulmonary embolism and his weight dropped from 200 to 105 pounds. The prognosis appeared poor but after many months in intensive care, Edgar began to improve and was finally in recovery.
After regaining bits and pieces of his life, Edgar started sinking into depression. “As my health improved, I gained greater awareness of my ostomy. The thought of having to tend to it daily for the rest of my life was beyond upsetting,” he said. “I felt that living with an ostomy would hold me back from playing sports, fishing and doing things I enjoyed.” Edgar lost interest in his work, family and hobbies. His medical expenses totaled one million pesos (50,000 US dollars) and kept growing — to the point where he couldn’t afford it. He attempted suicide twice that same year, each time surviving, as difficult as it was.
To overcome his depression, Edgar forced himself back into a routine and realized the limitations he set were all self-imposed. He began educating himself about ostomies and focused on helping others, which led to pursuing a degree in wound and ostomy nursing. Since obtaining his diploma, Edgar has been assisting patients in Mexico on how to care for their ostomies. He worked in two government hospitals and helped collect ostomy supplies, understanding firsthand that many are struggling to access supplies. “Proper ostomy appliances are not often available in Mexico. And they’re very expensive when sold in shops, over $20 a bag.” He explained that many people are using fake bags which he says are cheaply made and destroy the skin.
It took Edgar a whole year to recover from what began as an appendectomy. Yet, despite what he’s been through he made a comeback and thrived. “Just one day more,” he told himself, again and again. “There are still many stigmas around living with an ostomy in Mexico,” he says. “Ostomates face discrimination securing jobs and maintaining marriages.” Edgar wants the stigma to end. He told us, “Mexican, Native American, Mestizo, American or whatever culture, we are all human beings. We deserve to be treated with respect. Just because I have an ostomy doesn’t make me any less human.”