Amnesia Patient finds Family And Himself
Chacha was at Elmhurst Hospital for six months and is still recovering from his amnesia. Tribune photo by Azi Paybarah.
By Azi Paybarah
An injured construction worker with amnesia was reunited with his family this week – six months after he was first admitted into Elmhurst Hospital Center for treatment, officials said.
While the third floor staff informally adopted the 34-year-old, whom they said cried daily and asked about his wife and four children back in Ecuador, his family in Queens was calling the police searching for him. At Elmhurst Hospital, workers posted fliers across Queens trying to find the family of the John Doe they were housing.
Kleber Zhinin, the man’s half brother, was one member of the worker’s family who spent six months searching for him, even approaching Elmhurst Hospital officials asking if they had a patient named Manuel Patricio Chacha. Elmhurst Hospital said they didn’t have a patient by that name.
Zhinin said, “I inquired at Flushing, Jamaica, Elmhurst Hospitals and the police…nothing.” Martha Zambrano, an Elmhurst Hospital employee who helped with the search, said Zhinin “told a receptionist at the hospital… my brother is missing.”
Despite hospital protocol that requires the admitting department to circulate a physical description of any unidentified patients, Elmhurst’s Assistant Director for Admitting, Stephen Bartley said the family and hospital couldn’t get on the same page, and Chacha stayed alone in the hospital.
This week, although he still can’t remember all of his memories, he knew he was happy to be back with his family.
Asking For Missing Patients
Elmhurst spokesperson Lisa King said details surrounding Chacha are still unfolding and so far there has been no sign of wrongdoing. King said Zhinin’s inquiries could have misrepresented the situation.
“If someone came in and said is my brother a patient, as opposed to my brother is missing and I’m looking for him…those are two different scenarios that can get two different results,” she said.
Hospital social worker Jeanie Glatus also said that he was probably asking for him by name when the hospital only knew him as unknown.
Before circulating the physical description, known as the Unknown Tracking Report, a patient is searched for using subtle clues.
Identifying “unknowns” is a problem solving game hospital officials play frequently, according to Bartley. First, he said, they look in the patient’s pockets for clues. This can be anything from a drivers license to a business card from a bar or restaurant where the patient might have been shortly before the injury.
Then they look at where the patient was found, the nature of the injury and a story about the patient usually unfolds.
With Chacha, clues like these didn’t exist.
The initial report by Emergency Medical Services (EMS) about where Chacha was found, his condition and who notified authorities, was not available. Spokesperson David Billig said in an e-mail message that “We only keep EMS records on the computer for about 30 days or so.”
A copy of that report was not immediately available.
Neither Chacha nor hospital officials who spoke to the Tribune could say where Chacha was the night he was injured. He was reportedly found under the elevated No. 7 train tracks on 40th Street, according to the hospital.
With such little information, Chacha remained in the hospital, winding up in a bed near the window on the third floor, overlooking Broadway, wondering about his identity.
“There’s a protocol to follow before they can even contact us in external affairs, alerting the media and doing a community outreach was a last resort,” said King.
Director of External Affairs Dario Centorcelli said because the hospital had no luck, they started to involve the community.
Roughly two weeks ago, black and white fliers with a headshot of a man in an EMS t-shirt appeared throughout the local Ecuadorian community, courtesy of the Ecuadorian International Center. By that time, the “unknown Hispanic” was able to identify himself, but hospital officials remained uncertain.
“He thinks his name is Manuel Patricio Chacha,” the poster said.
A neighbor of Zhinin reportedly recognized the photo, and that led to the reunion last week.
“Within one day of posting the flier, Ecuadorian International, had the brother here. Maybe a day or two,” said Manager Manny LaCayo of Elmhurst’s Managed Care Department.
It was a tearful scene.
The adopted son of the third floor staff recognized his brother, who for months, had come to believe rumors that Chacha was missing because he had run off with another woman and abandoned ties to his family.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
“I have a wife and children and I’d like to see them soon,” said Chacha the day he was reunited with Zhinin. “I don’t remember how I got here, all I remember is that I woke up in bed the next day.”
Glatus asked if he even knew he was in the United States.
“Not until now,” said Chacha. “I always thought I was in Ecuador, but I know I’m in New York…I would like to stay here but I would like to work, or get to know the country that I never got to visit.”
Actually, Zhinin said he and Chacha came here four years ago, in search of work. Since that time, each worked in a variety of construction related jobs.
“He lost this life in the United States,” said Zambrano.
“Everyday I asked god to help me,” said Chacha. “I am grateful that everything was fine.”
But the severe effects of amnesia have not completely gone away.
When asked what he remembered when he was first brought to Elmhurst, Chacha said, “I only knew my wife and four children, Henry, Javier, Manny-Gabrielle, and Edgar Manuel.”
“He has five, not four,” Zambrano corrected him, to the amusement of hospital employees and reporters.
At last contact, Chacha remained in the hospital, and was being visited by Zhinin. Zhinin said his brother still needs to recuperate.