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David Bonilla endured many challenges in his long road to get surgery in Northeast Ohio, crossing through six countries with just one eye to do so.
CLEVELAND — David Bonilla was born in Nicaragua. He had a future in boxing, but he had a small cataract in his eye that needed to be removed before he could proceed with the sport.
He was just 15, and was told it would be minor surgery to have it removed. What happened next?
“After the surgery, I had 30 stitches down my face, all through my mouth,” Bonilla says, through a translator, “and I didn’t even recognize myself.”
His entire face was swollen and deformed, thanks to an infection.
“I would look in the mirror and I couldn’t recognize myself,” he told us.
Bonilla and his family tried to seek medical treatment in Nicaragua, but quickly found resistance. He sought action for malpractice, and soon, the government was threatening him and his family, so he moved to Costa Rico in this early 30s.
Many times, he says he considered suicide, but somehow someone stopped him. So, two years ago, he made a drastic decision.
“Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, United States.”
By himself, with one eye, he crossed all those countries, trying to get to the place he knew could help him: the U.S. Bonilla admits he crossed illegally from Piedras Negras in Mexico to Eagles Pass, Texas.
“I passed through the river [and] jumped on a train for 28 hours,” he remembers.
It took Bonilla six months to get to the United States. At the border, he went straight to immigration, and says they were very kind and compassionate after seeing his face and hearing his plight. He was bleeding and in pain when he got there, and officials called his family right here in Cleveland.
They were able to get Bonilla to Cleveland Clinic, where he underwent surgery. He says his face is 50% better from when he came two years ago, and tells us doctors are confident his condition will improve, even though he says what they have done is already more than he expected.
“Thank you, thank you so much,” he says of the medical professionals who helped save him. “[I] really, really appreciate you.”
As he said this, Bonilla was brought to tears thinking of his doctors, his family, and most of all, his painful health journey. He is now seeking medical asylum, which he hopes will happen in October.
Until then, he prays for his family and his two sons he left behind. He remains faithful, and knows God truly has a plan for him.
“Sincerely, I still can’t believe how far I’ve come,” he said.