A man who's been lying anonymously in a hospital bed at Sharp Coronado Hospital for 16 years finally has a name.
The man, known for years as "Garage 66," is severely brain damaged and on life support. The San Diego County hospital's Villa Coronado Skilled Nursing Facility has been his home since 1999, when a car accident left him fighting for his life.
On Friday, the Mexican Consulate in San Diego announced that an effort by doctors, immigration authorities, politicians and educators has led to discovery of the man's identity.
But his name will not be made public. Because of confidentiality laws that protect patient information, Sharp HealthCare said it could not disclose the patient's name, details of his condition or the circumstances of the accident. The man's family members declined to talk to the media and have asked that their privacy be respected, according to the consulate.
"But his Sharp caregivers can now address him by name, and we are all celebrating the dignity afforded a person who has an identity and a history, as well as the peace of mind afforded a family who for many years has not known the condition or fate of their loved one," said spokesman Tom Hanscom.
The man cannot speak and does not react to his environment. Little was known of his life.
The hospital worked with local media in 2014 to make the patient's story public in an effort to locate family members.
Several families came forward believing the patient to be a long-lost relative, according to Hanscom. A committee of community members and government officials sponsored DNA testing and the matches were confirmed in December, he said.
The man, believed to be in his mid-30s, was ejected from a van when it crashed near the U.S.-Mexico border near El Centro, according to the investigative news outlet Inewsource.
The patient was transferred to the UC San Diego trauma center, where he spent a year in the hospital, Inewsource reported. He was assigned the random name "Garage 66," a common practice for patients who are not alert or awake and have no identification, a hospital spokesperson told the publication.
The man's medical costs — estimated at $700 per day — have been paid by Medi-Cal, California's program for the impoverished and the disabled, according to Inewsource.
Enrique Morones, founder of the immigrant rights organization Border Angels, first learned of Garage 66 last year and was involved in efforts to locate his family. He got a call Friday morning with news of the patient's identity.
"I was just overjoyed," he said.
Morones said more light needs to be shed on the thousands of people who go missing at the border and are never reunited with family.
"There are a lot of Garage 66s out there," Morones said. "Maybe it's not a 16-year-old case, maybe it's a 6-day-old case. But there's a mom who still wants to know, 'Did my son make it?' This is going to give a lot of people hope."
Sanchez writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.