Costa Rica Trip Turns Tragic for Texas Family

November 23, 2010

Eden Swenson should be back home in Houston, Texas, by now, refreshed from a sunny vacation in Costa Rica and anticipating her upcoming two-year wedding anniversary. Instead, she sits next to a Costa Rican hospital bed in the harsh glow of fluorescent lights while her husband, Chad Swenson, fights for his life.

Last month, the couple was enjoying an idyllic day rafting down the Tenorio River in Costa Rica’s northwestern Guanacaste province with a group of other travelers when things suddenly went wrong. Another member of the group grabbed a vine and began climbing it, causing a tree limb to snap. It fell some 30 feet, striking 36-year-old Chad Swenson in the head and knocking him instantly unconscious.

River guides strapped Swenson to the back of a raft with duct tape and carried him through tangled jungle up to the road. The family’s monthlong ordeal was just beginning. 

Swenson was transported by ambulance to CIMA Hospital in San José. By the time they arrived, 15 hours had lapsed since the accident and Swenson’s brain had swollen to the point that doctors had to remove part of his forehead to allow the swelling to subside.

Since then, Swenson has undergone four emergency operations in 21 days, and while he has shown some signs of improvement, he remains in a coma.

Meanwhile, anxious friends and family back home in Texas are scrambling to raise the thousands of dollars that Eden Swenson, a restaurant manager, needs to transport her husband back to a U.S. hospital. An air ambulance would cost up to $40,000, and the family’s insurance company won’t pay for it.

While waiting for donations to trickle in, Eden Swenson and mother-in-law Sue Marsh spend hospital visiting hours at Chad Swenson’s side. Their daily routine provides a sense of familiarity in an unfamiliar country. Neither speaks Spanish, and they both feel lost outside of going to their apartment, the hospital and a local supermarket.

They say they have received kindness and support from other families in the intensive care unit, friends and family back home, and hospital staff members.

“We’ve met so many kind people here,” Marsh said. “We want Chad to meet them too.”

“Chad is the type of person that is everyone’s best friend,” Eden Swenson said. “He’s always laughing, always joking. He’s the kind of person that everyone wants to be around.”

The family has set up a trust in Chad Swenson’s name, at www.chadstrust.com.

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