SANTIAGO – Mario Gomez Heredia, the oldest of the 33 miners rescued in 2010 after being trapped for 70 days some 700 meters (2,300 feet) underground in northern Chile, now needs a constant oxygen supply to breathe due to advanced silicosis.
The 71-year-old Gomez remains at a clinic in Copiapo after being admitted 20 days ago with complications from a cold he contracted in April that became pneumonia, the Diario de Atacama newspaper reported Tuesday.
The veteran miner, who in recent years earned a living driving a taxi in Copiapo, needs two oxygen supply apparatuses, one fixed and the other portable, and the equipment must be imported.
Gomez told the newspaper he felt “imprisoned” in the clinic and begged that the equipment’s delivery be speeded up so he could return home.
“I’ll be oxygen-dependent for the rest of my life,” Gomez, who lives with his wife, said.
The retired miner’s wife, Lilianet Ramirez, waited for him over two months in 2010 at the camp around the San Jose copper mine, located near Copiapo, where the 33 men were trapped.
Gomez, who began working in the mines when he was 12, has been visited by some of his fellow survivors, including Luiz Urzua, who was the shift foreman when the mine collapsed, and Luis Reygadas, while others have phoned him.
The veteran miner was 64, married and a father of four already suffering from silicosis and hypertension when he and his co-workers were trapped in the copper mine.
Of the 33 miners, Gomez required the most medical attention during the ordeal.
Starting on Aug. 22, 2010, when rescue teams established contact with the miners, Gomez received oxygen packs and was given medications.
On Oct. 13, Gomez was the ninth miner to emerge from the tunnel. Before the accident, Gomez had planned to retire by November 2010.