By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

SANTIAGO, February 18, 2009 ( – In a story that stands in stark contrast to the Eluana Englaro and Terri Schiavo cases in Italy and the United States, a Chilean man has been visiting his comatose wife for 14 years*, and says he won’t give up on her.

Carlos Abarca has always visited his wife regularly, and now that he has retired from the national police force, he is able to come three times a day.  He says that caring for her is his whole life.

“My affection will always be focused on her, I have never doubted it,” he told the Chilean daily El Mercurio, which broke the story.  “I don’t seek for more from life than caring for her.  There is nothing more to do.”

The affection he has for his wife, says Abarca, is “stronger than ever.  I want to protect her, care for her, make sure she is well, that she lacks nothing.”

Erika Sotelo has been in a coma since 1995, when the anesthesia given to her for a hysterectomy caused her heart to stop beating.  By the time doctors revived her, Sotelo’s brain had suffered damage due to oxygen deprivation. She has never recovered complete consciousness.

However, her husband has never lost hope in her, and recognizes signs of awareness in his wife, despite doctors’ claims that she is in a “vegetative state.”

Abarca says that he knows his wife can hear, noting that she stirs when spoken to.

“Sometimes when one speaks to her in her ear she begins to cry, so I have better reason to believe that she can hear.  Sure, the doctors always contradict it, but I believe that it is to prevent one from hoping, so that one doesn’t delude one’s self, but I know better than everyone.”

Abarca says he will continue to love his wife, “until God has the last word.  In the end, if tomorrow she must go, our conscience will be clear.”  However, he adds, he is not ready for that yet.

“Many people say, ‘you’re accustomed to this,’ but no, day by day it’s different and one can’t become accustomed to it. I’m not ready for her to leave.”

Latin American news sources reporting on the case have noted the stark difference between Abarca’s attitude of patience and commitment, and that of the father of Eluana Englaro, an Italian who recently dehydrated his daughter to death after she fell into a minimally conscious state following a car accident in 1992.

Similarly, Terri Schiavo was starved and dehydrated to death in the United States in 2005 by her husband Michael, who had begun to live with another woman and had obtained a substantial damage award in a malpractice suit related to his wife’s case. Schiavo’s parents and brother and sister, however, fought to the end for her life, but in the end custody was given over to her husband, who issued the order for the death by dehydration. 

(*A previous version of this report had erroneously reported that Erika Sotelo has been in a coma for 17 years, and not 14.)