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Jose Salvador Alvarenga, ocean castaway is mentally fragile, doctors say

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) -- Jose Salvador Alvarenga has surprised doctors with his good physical condition, though they caution that the famed castaway is psychologically fragile as he recovers from what he has described as more than a year adrift at sea surviving on raw fish, turtles and bird blood.

All of the doctors who examined Alvarenga after he returned to his native El Salvador said he appears shaken and has asked to be given as much privacy as possible amid an international media furor over his apparent ordeal.

"I want to be alone with my family. They should give me time to talk after I have recovered, because right now I'm in no shape to explain anything," Alvarenga said from his hospital bed in a video shown to the press on Wednesday by the ministry of public health. "That's what I'm asking them, that they leave me in peace, so I can recover, that they don't bother my family, so I can be well. Nothing more than that."

El Salvador Castaway Emotionally Exhausted but in Good Physical Health

Alvarenga underwent a battery of tests after being hospitalized upon his return home from the Marshall Islands, where he showed up after what he has described as 6,500-mile (10,500-kilometer) journey from Mexico across the Pacific that began when his small fishing boat was thrown off course by bad weather.

He told doctors that several large ships came near his small fishing boat but none tried to rescue him, even though sailors on at least one even waved at him.

"They passed close by, he asked them for help and they didn't want to provide it," said El Salvador's minister of public health, Maria Isabel Rodriguez. "There was one that almost destroyed his little boat because it came so close, but nobody helped him."

Although he was close to despair, "his desire to live was greater, he thought of his family and said that he wanted to live," Rodriguez said.

The medical team that examined Alvarenga at the San Rafael hospital in the Salvadoran capital said he was in remarkably good physical health, with no skin lesions from overexposure to the sun and no cardiovascular or kidney issues. His only physical problem, doctors said, was a case of anemia.

"All of the exams have been basically close to normal. It's incredible," Rodriguez said.

She and other Salvadoran experts who looked at Alvarenga's results said they had no doubt about the veracity of his tale, which left many skeptical even in the absence of an alternate explanation for his sudden appearance on the Marshall Islands' Ebon atoll.

"He challenges ideas about human physiology that we've had for a long time, but miracles exist and I don't think there's any reason to doubt him," hospital director Yeerles Ramirez told reporters.

Rodriguez said that after Alvarenga arrived at the San Salvador airport late Tuesday and saw dozens of waiting reporters, photographers and cameramen, "he quickly fell into a depression and started crying because he's not ready to talk to the whole world."

Alvarenga, 37, has asked for tortillas and a pupusa, a thick stuffed corn tortilla that is a Salvadoran specialty, and he has already eaten a tortilla with cheese, Rodriguez said.

The fisherman will remain hospitalized for at least two days while he rests and undergoes a series of exams, among them a test of his kidney function, Ramirez told reporters outside the hospital.

Alvarenga's story stunned the world when he washed up on Ebon almost two weeks ago, appearing robust and barely sunburned after more than a year at sea. But he had started out a much larger man, and doctors found that he was swollen and in pain from the ordeal, suffering from dehydration.

The journey back home after a week of rest and medical treatment in the Marshall Islands capital of Majuro was marked by long layovers in Honolulu and Los Angeles, where doctors checked his health and ability to continue the trip.

Alvarenga said he worked in a fishing village on the Pacific coast of Mexico's southern Chiapas state, where he embarked. A man with his nickname, "Cirilo," had been registered as missing with civil defense officials there. They said a small fishing boat carrying two men, the other named Ezequiel Cordoba, disappeared during bad weather on Nov. 17, 2012, and no trace of them or the craft was found during an intense two-week search.

Cordoba died after about a month when he couldn't eat the raw fish and turtles, Alvarenga has said.

Join the discussion

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rlpjr2 February 13 2014 at 3:28 PM

Eat more sushi..... sad for the guy who would not eat the raw fish or do what he needed to do to survive.... :-(

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1 reply
MD rlpjr2 February 13 2014 at 3:40 PM

The other guy was eaten!

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cf77777 February 13 2014 at 3:14 PM

He does look "meaty" to have survived all that he did, but who am I to judge.
If it isn't true, in this day and age, it will be found out.
If he did have to live through all that, oh my god what an ordeal! What lonelyness, hunger of body and soul, madness, fear, pain, and other unexplainable things this man had to go through, I can't imagine.
I wish him healing and LOVE. Regardless if this is true or not.

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nyor February 13 2014 at 5:31 PM

I wonder if he had seen the movie "The Life of Pi" or if he found the algae island full of meercats.

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INB February 13 2014 at 5:12 PM

All I want to know is HOW DID HE POOP?!!!

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2 replies
soccerbob1152 INB February 13 2014 at 5:17 PM


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nyor INB February 13 2014 at 5:26 PM

I would guess he used his anus.

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jacobsgold February 14 2014 at 12:11 AM

A spanish fairy story.

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stevewoodzy February 13 2014 at 4:57 PM

I doubt he had enuf money to air lift his boat 6,000 miles from Mexico to the Marshall islands for a haux ! Fisherman are tough ! Fisherman are good at catching fish and his panga could have filled up with dozens of gallons of water during the torrential tropical down pores that have been known to sink boats . Another similar Mexican panga with fisherman survived 9 months at sea . Read "76 Days Adrift" about a man who survived in a tiny rubber raft .

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Angela February 13 2014 at 3:10 PM

".............and he has already eaten a tortilla with cheese, Rodriguez said."

Is it really note worthy to the story what he has eaten since he was found? Why leave out other stuff if they're going to put that in there? Did he request hot sauce in that tortilla? What was the brand of TP that he first used back on land? Did he get new shoelaces?

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Lisa February 13 2014 at 3:52 PM

I think someone is looking for his fifteen minutes of fame, no buying it at all.

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Ali Cat February 13 2014 at 3:52 PM

His story could be verified if people on the passing ships who saw him but did not help would come forward to say as much, but that seems pretty unlikely.

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moccasinmike February 13 2014 at 3:06 PM

Wake you fools

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