Jesus Ignacio Flores of Nicaragua started working when he was 16, laboring long hours on construction sites and in the fields of his country’s biggest sugar plantation.
Three years ago his kidneys started to fail and flooded his body with toxins. He became too weak to work, wracked by cramps, headaches and vomiting.
On Jan. 19 he died on the porch of his house. He was 51.
His withered body was dressed by his weeping wife, embraced a final time, then carried in the bed of a pickup truck to a grave on the edge of Chichigalpa, a town in Nicaragua’s sugar-growing heartland, where studies have found more than one in four men showing symptoms of chronic kidney disease.
A mysterious epidemic is devastating the Pacific coast of Central America, killing more than 24,000 people in El Salvador and Nicaragua since 2000 and striking thousands of others with chronic kidney disease at rates unseen virtually anywhere else.