Meet the patient: Gustavo Cartagena - MEDLIFE

Meet the patient: Gustavo Cartagena

When Gustavo Cartagena was a young adult, his aspirations were many. He dreamed of providing more for his family than his parents ever could during his own childhood. Though he was born into poverty, Gustavo saw a bright economic future ahead—he had hope.

Gustavo is now thirty-one years old and a father of four, but unfortunately he has been unable to accomplish any of the goals he set for himself when he was younger. Gustavo could not have predicted that he would develop an illness that would prevent him from achieving any professional career while sending his family even deeper into poverty.


Gustavo’s first professional dream was primary education, but he could not afford the tuition to earn a teaching degree. This disappointment did not deter Gustavo; it only reshaped his professional dreams. He next aspired to be professional chauffeur, a very lucrative position in his small Ecuadorian town of Cumana de la via Banos. With his blossoming family in mind, Gustavo set his sights on a career to pull his family out of poverty.

Similar to Gustavo’s short-lived teaching career, his new dream was never given a chance. This time, however, his ambitions were not halted due to economic constraints. Gustavo failed the preliminary eye exam required to enter Chauffeur School. He was told his poor eyesight rendered him practically blind and unfit to drive, thus crushing his dreams of being a chauffeur.

Though this moment was heartbreaking, the result had not come as a surprise. At the time of Gustavo’s chauffeur entrance exam, his vision had already been causing him trouble for quite some time. Gustavo did not want to believe he was going blind in his twenties, but the signs were undeniable.

The first indication was a change in his ability to see objects and recognize people—even his own family. At times, he could not recognize the person standing right in front of him. At first, he brushed off these incidents and made up excuses to conceal his impairment to the people around him. He could not pretend for long; a shadow was beginning to cloud his vision, slowly darkening and warping his sight.

Although teaching and chauffeuring did not work out, Gustavo was able to find work in construction. It was unstable at times, but he earned a sufficient salary to support his four children. It was through this work that he was introduced to MEDLIFE, years after his symptoms first began. The organization saw his immediate need for medical help and brought him to the doctor for exams and an official diagnosis.


Gustavo was diagnosed with astigmatism and a severe keratoconus of his right eye, and mild version of it in his left eye. The keratoconus was causing his eyes to slowly take the shape of a cone, a deformity that was distorting his vision. Doctors affirmed that, if left unattended, the keratoconus would eventually lead to complete blindness.

When doctors informed Gustavo that he would need a transplant, the news was bittersweet.  For years, Gustavo was aware that he needed surgery of some kind, but his economic situation prevented him from affording an operation.

Throughout Gustavo’s adulthood, he has been trapped in a vicious poverty cycle: he can not find good work due to his condition, and because he can not make a comfortable living, he can not afford the necessary medical care, let alone a comfortable house for his family to live in.  Gustavo, his wife, and their four children reside in a barely livable two-room house; one room serves as a bedroom for their entire family, and the other is their kitchen.

Gustavo’s progressing symptoms eventually barred him from work altogether, and his dreams of improving his family’s economic situation fell flat. Although Gustavo’s wife was able to pick up the responsibility of providing for their family by selling baked goods at the market, Gustavo feels as though he failed his family. While Gustavo was losing his sight, his wife was barely making enough money to feed their children, leaving their family in dire economic straits.

Little did Gustavo know that meeting MEDLIFE would reverse his dark path into complete blindness. MEDLIFE stepped in and informed Gustavo that he would finally get the surgery he needed to cure the keratoconus in his right eye. Gustavo and his wife were stunned. Although Gustavo’s condition was curable, they never believed that they would actually be able to afford the surgery to overcome it.


With MEDLIFE by Gustavo’s side throughout the entire process, he underwent a successful surgery, and is one step closer to regaining his sight. Recovery will be a slow process and Gustavo is aware of the patience required to endure the wait. He bides his time eagerly knowing that his eyes will one day be sharp enough to land him the chauffeuring position he dreamed about years ago.

Though hope was previously lost, the future Gustavo planned for himself and for his family is fortunately in sight.