Dallas friends rescue 2-time hurricane survivor in Puerto Rico

Dallas friends rescue 2-time hurricane survivor in Puerto Rico

Clovis Tobias rode through both hurricanes Irma and Maria and lost a leg to amputation. He's hoping millions more Caribbean hurricane victims could just be as lucky as he was.

Tobias has lived his entire life on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hurricane Irma hit the island the first week of September as a Category 5 storm. Tobias, a diabetic, was trapped in his house for three days. By the time he was rescued, his left leg was badly infected. Friends got him to the best hospital they could find in nearby San Juan, Puerto Rico where doctors, aware of his heart problems as well, chose to save his life by amputating his left leg above the knee.

His friend, Elie Finegold in Dallas, decided it was a hospital stay he shouldn't be navigating alone. He flew to San Juan to be by his side even though a second storm, Hurricane Maria, was on the way.

"I've been sideswiped by them a couple times," Finegold said of hurricanes. "I've never been through an eyewall before. And hope never to be through an eye well again."

"Two days later, boom!" Tobias said of the hurricane's arrival two days after his surgery. "Another hurricane, category 5!"

"I cannot begin to explain the degree to which that island is devastated," Finegold said.

Right now, three weeks after the hurricane ravaged the island, 84 percent of Puerto Rico still doesn't have electrical power. A third of the island's 3.4 million people still don't have access to safe drinking water. Tobias' hospital lost everything but emergency power.

"I remember the faces of every single person I walked past as I walked out before that hurricane," Finegold said of the San Juan hospital. "Because nobody knew if they were going to survive the night."

So Finegold, after riding out the hurricane in a San Juan hotel and near one of the few remaining cell phone towers that provided communication with the outside world, went to Facebook and tapped into his network of friends.

"If you go to my Facebook page, you'll see a list of over 120 people all of whom helped in some way," he said. 

Including, he says, a very valuable friend, New York real estate billionaire Andrew Farkas who arranged to have an air ambulance fly to San Juan, pick Tobias up and take him to the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida near Fort Lauderdale, where he is now safely recovering.

Finegold also praises medical professionals who were willing to take Tobias in even though proof of his medical coverage, along with the offices of his medical insurance provider, were destroyed back in St. Thomas.

"Oh man, they were awesome," Tobias said of his friends and their efforts to save him.

But Elie Finegold says that's only part of their story.

"We're the lucky ones. We're fortunate enough to have wealthy friends. We're fortunate enough not to lose communications. We're fortunate enough to be in a place that didn't become totally inaccessible. But most people aren't."

"What I fear is that we're going to forget that this is a long-term problem for an island that is very remote and for people who don't have a strong voice in our government and frankly don't have federal representation to look out for them," Finegold said.

"I just love them to death," Tobias said of the friends who saved him. "We've been hanging out strong ever since man. I just love them to death you know."

And thanks to his friends, death can wait a bit longer.  He only hopes that help arrives for the millions still fighting to survive so that they will be able to say the same thing.

Puerto Rico and Caribbean dedicated relief organizations:

Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands

NYC Eastern Caribbean Relief Fund
 

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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