Story by Fran Dutton, Executive Coordinator, Elkhart, Indiana
There may be few harder decisions than giving up one’s own child, but when faced with the option of opening a world of opportunity - better medical care, education, employment - for them, how do you say no?
In 1976, Jose and Maria Perugachi faced that choice. In a freak accident, the hands of their daughter, Norma Mercedes “Mechi,” were bitten off by a pig. Barely escaping death, she was rushed to a hospital in Quito, Ecuador where a Peace Corps volunteer, Betty Stuart, nursed her back to health.
From the moment Mechi was placed under her care, Betty felt a strong connection with the toddler. She even brought Mechi to the United States under a temporary medical visa for an operation to make her left-arm functional without a hook. After returning to Ecuador, Betty offered to adopt the Perugachi’s daughter. They agreed.
Almost 40 years later, Mechi is living in the United States. She has married her husband, Brian, and they have had two children, Brianna and Joseph. She was diagnosed with SCA2, a rare genetic disorder affecting her balance and mobility. But she doesn't let that stop her, and keeps a positive attitude, knowing many face their own challenges every day.
As for her family in Ecuador, they did not forget their little girl, and with the passage of time, they longed to reconnect with her, but weren't sure how. Then something serendipitous happened – there was an article in the newspaper about Mechi and her mother. It didn't provide a lot of information, but there was enough to go on that when they approached the Ecuadorian Red Cross, a case searching for their daughter was opened.
That one newspaper article continued to play an important role as it allowed the American Red Cross to find Betty, and then Mechi, in Indiana. The two were thrilled that the family in Ecuador had sought them out to reconnect. While neither speaks Spanish anymore, the Red Cross was able to locate a translator and facilitate the first call between Mechi along with her family in the United States, and her family in Ecuador.
After three attempts to reach the Red Cross in Quito, finally, the connection was successful. There was electricity in the room, with everyone holding their breath, hoping that the family would be there. After only a couple of minutes we were connected to Mechi’s sister, Lucia, and to our surprise, another sister, Maria. They shared that her parents were both alive, living three hours north of Quito, and that she now has nine brothers and sisters. Mechi also found out that her father may a disease similar to hers which is thought to be inherited through the parents. Everyone exchanged addresses, phone numbers and Facebook contacts. There was crying, laughing, and hoping for a future day when they can all be together again.
Family separation, whether caused by conflict, disaster, migration, or even a difficult choice, is a burden that no one should have to endure. The Red Cross works to support and strengthen the resilience of communities by ensuring that no family is left wondering and worrying about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.