An Island Mourns

“Learjet Crashes Off Florida Coast with 4 People Aboard”

We read headlines like this daily.  Whether we watch the evening news, use online networks, or still read newspapers, we are overcome with stories filled with personal tragedies and, since we are beset with such information so frequently,  our survivor skills kick in.  We turn the page, turn our heads, or turn away.  Until it is someone we know, until it’s personal.  Then we often wonder how the world can just keep going when someone we cared about so much is taken from us.  And that is what many on our island feel today.

That headline above was just that, it was personal..  There was no turning away this time.  There were four victims in that crash.  The pilots, Jose Galvan De Leo and Josue Buendia Moreno, and their passengers, Cozumel residents,  Dr. Fernando Senties Nieto and Nurse Mariana Gonzalez Inzunza.  They were on a medical flight that had just dropped off a patient in Florida and was heading back to Cozumel.  Within just a few minutes after takeoff  there was a “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” call from the pilots.  The plane crashed moments later less than a mile from the coast.   Two bodies were discovered shortly after the crash and a search continued for survivors both day and night for two more days.  Unfortunately, no survivors were found and our island mourns their loss.

cheyI did not have the pleasure of meeting Mariana, or either of the pilots, but I did know Dr. Fernando Senties Nieto, or Dr. Chey, as he was affectionately known.  At this time I’d like to share a few of my memories for no other reason other than to show why that headline is so personal, for so many of us.

I’d first heard about Dr. Chey from a friend.  She’d gone to see him for an allergic reaction, which he took care of, but she came back with yet another reaction.  She was absolutely in love with his methods.  Apparently he took quite a bit of time getting to know her, recorded all her information for future reference (not typical here in Mexico), and he was quite ahead of the times due to his knowledge, and use, of technology.  Since my friend is a bit of a techie herself, that impressed her, a lot.  But, there was some icing for the cake.  According to her he was quite the handsome man as well, which is always a silver lining when one is ill.

I didn’t need to see a doctor for some time after that, but I continued to hear such good things that I was almost wondering what I could come up with just to pay him a visit.  But, that wasn’t necessary after all.  Turned out that I started having my nightmares again, something I’d been dealing with for a few years, and it was suggested that I make an appointment.  I got the number, gave him a call, and he set up a time to see me the next morning.

His private office wasn’t particularly impressive.  In fact, it was located on a popular street for locals, but certainly not where the tourists tend to go.  The waiting room was quite small and I sat with a gentleman whose wife was in with the Dr..  I waited for almost an hour, but that turned out to be due to the fact she had been a local, and a  “walk-in,” and it was her first time in his office.  Dr. Chey didn’t rush anyone, he took his time.  But, he did apologize for the wait, gave me a smile, and then turned all his attention towards me.  He asked me what was wrong and he listened.  There was no shuffling of his desk papers, no phone calls, no turning to his computer.  He just listened.  Occasionally he’d ask a question, but he had such a calm, friendly manner that I had no problems answering them.  After about an hour he gave me his diagnosis and made some suggestions.  We talked a bit more, he joked a little, I laughed, and when I left I not only knew he’d be my personal care physician, but felt as if I’d made a friend as well.  And, his diagnosis was correct.  I’ve followed his instructions and haven’t had a nightmare since.

I’d seen him on several occasions after that one.  Two more times in his office where we both just sat back and chatted about the little things until I was comfortable and then we’d get to the business of how things were going.  He was thorough, kind, scary smart, and fun to be around, even when discussing uncomfortable issues.  One thing I have to mention, when speaking about uncomfortable issues, the last time I was in his office I asked him if he’d like to know what his nickname was with some of the ladies.  He said, with some hesitation, “okay.”   When I told him it was “Dr. Yummy,” he blushed, stared for a second, and then burst out laughing.  That’s a memory I’ll cherish.

I also had the opportunity to run into him several times outside of the office.  Always he would give me the island greeting of a kiss on the cheek, ask me how I was doing, and would chat with me a while.  That was just his way.  In fact, when he competed in the last Ironman competition (I was volunteering at the finish line) he still, although he must have been totally exhausted, stopped and gave me a quick island kiss, and asked me how I was.  Like I said, that was just his way.  And I also bragged to my friends that I got a kiss from Dr. Chey while he was dressed in spandex.  We’d laughed.

Now, I’d like to touch, briefly, on his many successes.  Although he was only 33 years old, he’d had many accomplishments both professionally and personally.  Dr. Chey had specialized in hyperbaric oxygen therapy, was going on for another degree in psychiatry, had a second office at the San Miguel Clinic, and had written numerous articles including one we all refer to that pertains to the tropical disease of dengue (ABCDs of Dengue), which is important information for residents of a tropical island.  In his personal life he had been married just over a year and was deeply in love with his wife,  Tichi Joaquin.  In fact, he used as his Facebook profile pic one of their wedding pictures and had another one displayed prominently in his office.  Dr. Chey also had many friends from all stations in life, and was involved in a variety of interests.   This was a man who had it all, but he made sure to give so much back.

But, enough words from me about Dr. Chey.  I’d like to include just a few entries of what has been written on our local Facebook pages over the last two days.  This first quote was written by my  friend, Myrna:

At moments like this, words tend to escape; however, there is so much to be said about a person like Chey, our dear Dr. Fernando Senties Nieto.
Larry and I feel both lucky and blessed for having known him; somehow he was a part of our lives. 
His enthusiasm for life, his passion for medicine, his dedication to his patients and his family, his sense of humor and integrity; his compassion, generosity and the kindness with which he used to treat everyone, equally, earned him the love, respect and admiration from all those that were fortunate to be under his care and/or enjoy his friendship.
Even though he has left an enormous void in our lives we cannot begin to comprehend how his mom, wife, brothers and all his family must feel at this moment.
To them, I say, his brief journey on this Earth was not in vain. His footprints will be engraved forever in our hearts. 
RIP, dear friend. We’ll miss you and remember you as long as we live.

These words were by another friend, Zazzu:

“It has been a shocking and intense day, one that many of us in Cozumel will not forget. The loss we feel hearing that our dear dr Chey was one of the four passengers on the plane that went down last night has rocked my world. Chey embodied so many of the qualities that I think we all aspire to…..he had great compassion, was intensely curious and passionate about his medical practice and completely committed to his patients, he was bright, interesting and interested, he was social, accessible and so very COOL...”

and, finally, when I asked another friend, Laura, what she thought about Dr. Chey her words were simply, “I loved him.”

So many of us did.  We’ve suffered a great loss on our little island.  My heart and prayers go out to the families of Dr. Fernando Senties Nieto, Mariana Gonzalez Inzunza, Jose Galvan De Lao, and Josue Buendia Moreno.  May God give you peace.

“He spoke well who said that graves are the footprints of angels.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


20 thoughts on “An Island Mourns

  1. That was a beautiful, beautiful tribute Celia!!! I am crying again! Dr. Chey touched so many lives, and I am blessed to have been one of those lives that he touched and made a lasting impression!

  2. I never met dr. Chey but it felt like I knew him from all the wonderful things people said about him. That piece cannot have been easy to write, and you did him proud, Celia. Thank you.

  3. Thanks Celia…I have read many of your blogs and always enjoy them but especially this one. I am not on the island and haven’t spent more than three months there totally in my life. However two of those months were spent there just two months ago and I was having some intestinal problems. I was urged to go to the doctor and was told about this “Dr. Chey”. I finally went and was so pleasantly surprised how much care and attention he gave me. I was dealing with one thing and then don’t think I ever recovered when suddenly I had something worse. I called him on his cell phone on a Saturday night and he was off the island in Mexico City. He took my call while out to dinner with his wife and treated me over the phone for the issue and then had me come into his office on Monday morning. He was right on with the diagnoses and treatment. I felt I had made a friend too. I am hoping to spend more long term time there and felt comfortable that I was able to discuss all my other medical issues with him and knew I would be in good hands. So just this short experience with him showed me his dedication to his work, his kindness, humor, and effectiveness. Thanks again Celia for writing this and I read Myrna’s right on post on FB and appreciate both. My condolences with all my new acquaintances there but especially his family …Jon

  4. Well written, however Chey’s body has not been found yet. The information given to you is not accurate. I am a close friend of the family and they are still asking people to pray for a miracle, so please pray. The U.S. Coast Guard suspends the search at 5:30 and that is when hope will begin to disappear for them. As of now, his brothers, sisters, parents, wife and relatives are all asking to join them in prayer to find him, in any way they can.

    1. I had, unfortunately, read verification in two different locations….. along with the prayer vigils, and the ongoing outpouring of condolences I felt a need to write about someone who had touched my heart. This was written with love and not meant to be distressing in any way. I will also continue to pray for a miracle, and my heart goes out to all the families involved.

  5. I never know what to say in these circumstances. Beautiful tribute and I feel your loss and will pray that the unfound are found healthy.

      1. Celia what a wonderful way to describe him, yes he is unique. Thank you for such an incredible tribute. I have always been proud of being the wife of an amazing soul.
        I wanted to thank you for such wonderful words and also let you know that he was never identified. His body hasnt been found.
        Thank you again for all the love you transmited to us. Sending you a big hug, Ana

      2. Ana, I did not see this until just now, or I would have written to you immediately. I haven’t stopped praying for you and for your family. Your husband touched so many lives, most especially yours, my heart breaks for you. He was such a wonderful man, doctor, friend.

        Thank you for writing, I continue to pray for you and your husband’s family. And I have sincere hopes that God will give you peace. Celia

  6. I had the pleasure of meeting Chey before he was Dr. Chey. We met in second semester of medical school. We hit it off right away. We had some great times, some not so great, tons of laughs and good memories which I will cherish forever. After medical school we each went our separate ways and, as destiny would have it, we both ended up moving to southeast Mexico and setting up practice here. I’m in Cancun yet we had recently been planning to do some work together. Plans which will sadly never happen…
    The way you described Chey is exactly the way I would describe my friend. Kind, generous of his time and possessions, humble in spite of his achievements and yes, scary smart!
    Believe me when I say, it’s not just an island that mourns him…

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts – heartfelt. And, you’re right, it’s not just an “island that mourns.” I am so sorry for your loss, he touched so many hearts in his so very short time here….

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