A 74-year-old Ecuadorian woman who was believed to have succumbed to the coronavirus, and cremated, has quite literally "come back from the dead" after her family was informed about her being alive on Thursday, three weeks after her pronounced death.
Alba Maruri from the pandemic-hit city of Guayaquil was declared dead on 27 March and "her" cremated remains were sent to her family. However, the septuagenarian had been in a coma for three weeks and a mix-up led to someone else's ashes being delivered home.
"It is a miracle. For nearly a month we thought she was dead. Imagine. And I have someone else's ashes," said Aura Maruri, Alba's sister, according to the BBC.
Admitted to the hospital and declared dead
Suffering from strained breathing and a high fever, Alba was admitted on 27 March to the intensive care unit of Abel Gilbert Ponton Hospital in Guayaquil. Later that day, Aura received a call from the hospital personnel who informed her about her sister's apparent death.
Alba was suspected to have COVID-19. However, she had not been tested for it. Her family was shown a corpse in the morgue, but from a distance in order to avoid the risk of infection. Jaime Morla, Alba's nephew, had told the officials that he thought the remains were that of his aunt.
"I was afraid to see her face. I was a metre and a half away. She had the same hair, the same skin tone," Morla told AFP.
Coming back from the dead
After being in a three-week coma, Alba woke up on Thursday. Upon waking up, she asked the hospital authorities to call her sister. Her sister said that Alba gave the hospital officials their phone number and address, in order to ask her family to collect her.
"An ambulance arrived with a doctor, a psychiatrist and the social worker. They apologized, and they tell us 'Your sister is alive,' and we were in shock. It is a miracle of God what has happened," Aura told Reuters.
The family could not meet Alba on Saturday due to the curfew restrictions imposed in Ecuador. Alba is still under treatment at the Abel Gilbert Ponton Hospital. However, she is not in the intensive care unit anymore.
A 'deadly' mix-up
The question that troubles Maruri's family is, whose ashes did they receive? While the identity of the person remains unknown, the hospital has admitted to the mix-up. "They still don't know whose ashes are at home," Mora told AFP
"There was a failure by the hospital," Aura said. Recounting the distress she experienced after learning of her sister's death, Aura said, "I couldn't sleep because I was afraid they would take her (remains) to those containers for the dead."
Healthcare workers overburdened
Alba's case brings to light the struggle that healthcare workers and officials in the country are facing due to the sheer number of cases and deaths they are being confronted with. The overwhelming numbers have made the collection and identification of bodies difficult.
Juan Carlos Zevallos, Health Minister of Ecuador told reporters that the authorities guarantee the correct identification of the deceased and that hospitals are keeping track of it. He also said that Maruri's case was under investigation. The port city of Guayaquil is the epicenter of the pandemic in Ecuador. As of now, nearly 23,000 cases have been reported in the country. The number of casualties are over 1,300.