Cuban windsurfer wanted to get to Florida to get medical treatment, relatives say

A 48-year-old Cuban father who underwent cancer treatment risked his life on a windsurf board in the Florida Straits to get to South Florida.

ISLAMORADA, Fla. – The 48-year-old man who was stranded on a windsurf board off the Florida Keys is a Cuban father who is desperate for medical treatment, relatives said. He ventured off at sea despite having a colostomy bag.

A U.S. Coast Guard crew rescued him on Wednesday about 15 miles south of Islamorada. Relatives identified him as Elian López, a scuba diving instructor and trained windsurfer from Varadero.

“He urgently requires medication, being one of the reasons why he risked his life desperately,” Dunia Rodriguez, his cousin, wrote in Spanish in a petition on Change.org adding the “totalitarian system” in the communist island is “dragging Cubans through the worst misery.”

Unlike most of the migrants who are usually in ill-equipped crowded rafts, López was wearing a life jacket, had a Global Positioning System and mobile phones, according to the Coast Guard.

“He had safety equipment that is very needed for when we’re locating people,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Martin McAdams said.

Rodriguez said she was very surprised by what he did. She said he had undergone treatment for colon cancer in Cuba and needed to continue treatment with medications that are not available in Cuba.

The man who was stranded on a windsurf board at sea off the Florida Keys is a Cuban father who is desperate for medical treatment, relatives said.

“The only one that knew about it was his wife and his daughter,” Rodriguez said adding he left them behind in Cuba. “If he messaged her trying to say goodbye, that was because there was a point where he didn’t know what was going to happen with his life.”

López’s wife called friends and family in Miami to tell them he was stranded at sea.

“We received the report from around 3 p.m. from a family member,” McAdams said.

Alaydin Cabrera, his cousin, used Facebook to ask the public for help with updates about his condition and whereabouts.

“He was very dehydrated and was taken to the hospital,” Cabrera wrote in Spanish.

Cabrera and Rodriguez are among the relatives who are making a public plea to U.S. immigration authorities. They want López to stay in the U.S., so he can get the treatment he needs and eventually be reunited with his wife and daughter.

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About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.