From immigrant dream to flirting with death |

From immigrant dream to flirting with death

Editor’s note: The following is the first in a four-part series about Moises Carranza, an illegal Mexican immigrant whose emotional and convoluted tale weaves through Fairplay, Denver, Phoenix and Chicago.

DENVER – The story of Moises Carranza lies somewhere between the Arizona border and a modest house in north Denver. Tangled in the intervening miles, between the desert and the snow, is a series of events that mark the hinge of the “before” and the “after.”

Before, a portly 27-year-old Mexican embodied the worn and cliched immigrant dream. A jocular former military man and taxi driver, he sought what millions of his countrymen seek each year – a job, money and a chance.

After, a thin, bedraggled, undocumented alien now sits in a sort of purgatory between the hospital and deportation. He no longer has his right leg.

It took Carranza four months to make the journey that has ended, temporarily, in the well-kept house on 84th Avenue – four months colored by a panoply of doctors, lawyers, immigration officials, border smugglers, undocumented aliens and more than a few good Samaritans.

Those four months have also touched politicians, hospital administrators, charity workers and taxpayers – for these are the people that must ultimately deal with, and pay for, situations like Carranza’s.

In a sense, Carranza was very lucky. He only lost his left leg. It was lopped off right below the knee and left a stump that he now wiggles around between the frame of his crutches.

By all accounts Carranza should be dead. On March 9, when he was wheeled into the emergency room at Denver Health, he had experienced the failure of almost every organ in his body, was given a 2 percent chance to live and his head had swelled up so large he was almost unrecognizable.

He was, as his mother later put it, “at war with death.”

“You couldn’t identify someone with that face,” said Fabian Pina, the Mexican consulate official in charge of handling Carranza’s case. “(He had) liver damage and lung damage and everything that you can get.”

Pina was the first to visit Carranza at the hospital, arriving late at night on the day Carranza was admitted. Doctors had advised the consulate of the case and told officials there that Carranza would not survive the night. Somehow, he did.

“They said he was alive but didn’t understand it,” Pina said of the doctors’ reactions the next morning.

For at least the next three days, the hospital medical staff maintained their belief that Carranza would die within hours. At one point they even advised Carranza’s twin brother that he might have to make the painful decision to disconnect him from life support.

But with each passing day Carranza defied expectations.

“If you took 100 people in his condition, you would predict that fewer than 20 people would be alive in 60 days and fewer than 10 percent after that,” said Ivor Douglas, Denver Health’s director of critical care and one of the dozens of doctors that treated Carranza during his three-month stay at the hospital.

The severe sepsis syndrome and shock he suffered on account of a “particularly nasty” form of streptococcus started in his lungs and spread throughout his body, Douglas said. Carranza essentially experienced the dying process in slow motion as his brain, lungs, heart, pancreas, muscles, skin and nerves went into biologic failure.

Fastened to life support and kidney dialysis machines, Carranza spent two months in the intensive care unit of the hospital.

“He received cutting-edge therapy,” Douglas said, including treatment from lung, kidney, orthopedic and infectious disease specialists. A host of powerful antibiotics were pumped through his body to generate a response from limbs that were suffering from a critical lack of blood flow caused by low blood pressure.

The drugs were not entirely effective. Carranza developed gangrene in his left leg. It was amputated.

“The leg was something we expected,” Pina said. “I remember that I saw his two legs and both were like with necrosis. They were almost dead – the skin was almost black.”

Pina said he was surprised that Carranza lived.

“It’s a miracle,” he said. “It’s amazing that he has all his senses working fine and that he doesn’t have any brain damage.”

Aidan Leonard can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or

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