In December our friend and fellow location scout Joe Wolek travelled to Argentina to celebrate his 54th birthday doing what he loves best: experiencing a new world through his camera’s lens. And for two amazing weeks, he did just that, hiking in Patagonia and Tierra Del fuego.
However, on his last day, shortly before heading to the airport, he visited the La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires. He was robbed by two assailants who brutally stabbed his chest, puncturing his heart and lungs. Staggering towards the sidewalk with no help in sight, he collapsed from a lack of oxygen and blood loss. Death was imminent.
Miraculously, a passing plain-clothes officer called an ambulance and apprehended one of Joe’s attackers. Wolek’s medical team at La Boca’s Argerich Hospital were his angels. The emergency team lost no time using their expertise, knowledge and care to bring him back from the edge of life. After a 3-hour procedure and 4 days in an induced coma, the doctor’s prognosis was reserved; with the organ failure and infection atop the list of numerous risks. Surgery was required, followed by days full of tests, procedures, blood samples, IVs, antibiotics, drugs, pain, worry and lots and lots of rest. After a few weeks, Joe has healed enough to leave the hospital for temporary housing in Argentina. His recovery, from the success of the high-risk operation to the short healing time has been preternatural.
The future is uncertain. If all goes well he will heal in 3 to 6 months. While his hospital care was free thanks to Argentinian national healthcare, there will be ongoing medical expenses, hotels, flights and Joe will be unable to work for quite some time. The Argentine Film Commission has stepped up to help Joe and his wife in any way they can, and a “Go Fund Me” page has generated 40k in financial aid. Wolek says his “Go Fund Me” page is “an odd thing that I never would’ve thought of starting for myself. It is an inspiring reflection of my great friends and colleagues. It does make one feel worthy…” The LMGI joined many of you in making a donation. Wolek hopes to be back in action sooner rather than later making a decent living. Ever the generous spirit, he is already thinking how to help donate toward necessary equipment for Argerich hospital. Despite being an older public hospital in economically strapped Argentina, the incredible staff at Argerich saved his life. Wolek is humbled and hopes to repay them in some small way.
The fact that Joe is alive is a miracle, and we are grateful that he has been given a second chance. As a husband, father, brother, uncle, friend, neighbor, photographer, location scout, he will continue to express his unique perspective on the world. He continues to convalesce in Buenos Aires. Due to opening his chest cavity and the impact the assault had on his lungs, everything has to heal in order to withstand cabin pressure changes on the plane. He expects to be cleared to travel soon, but hopes to frequently return to Argentina, a culture and people that he has come to love.
After the tragic demise of two of our colleagues in Mexico City and San Francisco, we couldn’t be happier that Joe is getting back on his feet, with his camera inevitably back in his hands.
Please stay alert. Stay safe. Watch out for each other. And if you feel the call to donate, you can do so here: https://www.gofundme.com/gogojoe