Public health major finds calling in post-quake Mexico

October 6, 2017

On Sept. 19, while studying for his physics midterm, undergraduate Juan Medina-Echeverria, 26, checked a news site and saw people frantically digging for children trapped in rubble from that day’s deadly 7.1-magnitude earthquake in Mexico City. Something shook him, too.

Medina-Echeverria, who lives in Hayward and is of Mexican heritage, didn’t know anyone in that part of the country. But he followed his gut instinct, bought a plane ticket and landed in Mexico City the following day. What happened on his whirlwind trip helped this bilingual nurse, public health major and father of two young children better define his career path.

Juan Medina-Echeverria is a public health major, nurse and father of two. (UC Berkeley by Hulda Nelson)

Berkeley News recently talked with Medina-Echeverria about what he calls a “very life-changing” four-day experience.

That was a fast decision. What prompted you to drop everything and go?

Seeing those kids trapped while my kids were in bed and safe got me the most. I thought, ‘I’m a nurse, I have emergency medical experience, and I can speak Spanish. Why not just get on a plan and go? People are suffering. If I can help in any way, now is the time.” I was prepared for it, at that moment.

You had a midterm coming up, plus a job at a hospital, two kids and a tight budget. How did you pull this trip together?

I immediately went on Facebook and said I was going to Mexico City and asked if anyone knew people there. I did get replies, and I also called the Mexican Red Cross in Mexico City. A woman there told me, “Please come. We’ll see you here. This is our address, just show up, and we’ll find something for you to do.” That was my green light.

I also started a GoFundMe account and wrote a short summary of my project. My older brother, Gilberto, who’s in the business world, sent a link to his clients, and my family and friends donated as well. I aimed for $800, to cover my last-minute plane ticket and accommodations, but we raised $1,395 in 24 hours, and anything left over I gave away in Mexico.

I thank my wife, Victoria, so much for holding down the fort with our kids, who are five and seven. I took off time from my job, which I knew would be a big financial ding for me. Luckily, my manager and supervisor at Sutter Hospital said it was fine to go, to apply what I was learning to disaster relief. My midterm was supposed to be Tuesday, the day after I returned to California, but my professor gave me an extra day.

By Gretchen Kell
Media relations

Read the full Q&A at Berkeley News.