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Hilton Head area’s first Hispanic doctor treated patients for free if they couldn’t pay

Beaufort, Jasper county remember beloved doctor who exemplified the ‘American dream’

Dr. Hector F. Esquivel unexpectedly died of a heart attack on July 4, 2019, at 80 years old. Here's how the Lowcountry is remembering the well-loved doctor who came to the U.S. from Colombia and proudly lived out his "American dream."
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Dr. Hector F. Esquivel unexpectedly died of a heart attack on July 4, 2019, at 80 years old. Here's how the Lowcountry is remembering the well-loved doctor who came to the U.S. from Colombia and proudly lived out his "American dream."

Editor’s note: Haz clic para leer esta nota en español.

For those who lived in his small town in Colombia, Dr. Hector Favio Esquivel, 80, became an example of what is possible after he earned his medical degree at Temple University.

Esquivel left his little town, Torro Valle de Cauca, for the U.S. in 1964 with $100 and limited English, headed to the university on scholarship.

Years later, the town honored Esquivel for his achievements. He was the first to become a doctor.

When he moved to South Carolina in 1983 to work at Lowcountry General Hospital, he became the first Hispanic doctor for the area.

He later worked for Beaufort Memorial Hospital and in private practice as a surgeon, emergency-room physician and family practitioner.

On the Fourth of July, Esquivel, of Hilton Head, spent his last day running in the Hilton Head Island Firecracker 5K and then with his family at the beach, where he suffered a heart attack.

Strangers, unaware of who Esquivel was, pulled him from the water and rushed to start CPR — the same way he might have if a stranger needed help. Hours later, he died at an area hospital.

It was fitting, his son, Eric Esquivel said Thursday, that his father died on the Fourth of July “because he was an American success story of an immigrant.”

The younger Esquivel said his father, who still spoke with a thick Colombian accent, treated patients until the day he died.

Esquivel remained humble throughout his decades of medical practice in Beaufort and Jasper counties.

“He cared for everybody, whether they had the money or not,” his son said Thursday. “He never turned anyone away from his office.”

Esquivel was always coming home with gifts patients gave him, such as okra from their gardens, Eric Esquivel said.

He also made after-hours house calls, at times, for free.

News of his death prompted hundreds of social media posts and comments, from Colombia to the Lowcountry.

One person commented on Facebook that Esquivel came to his house to treat a broken hand after a car accident. He said the doctor fixed the break and applied a cast at no cost.

“He lived his creed to the best of his ability,” the person wrote. “We certainly need more men of honor like him. Again thanks for all your kindnesses.”

His son said the response on social media has been touching.

“Everybody’s dad means a lot to them,” Eric Esquivel said. “but seeing all the comments makes you realize that much more.”

After family and patients, health was important to Esquivel.

He often ran 5Ks and played soccer on the beach.

“He died doing what he loved,” his son said. “Running and going to the beach.”

A funeral service will be 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Francis Catholic Church, 45 Beach City Road, Hilton Head Island.

A ceremony celebrating his life will be held immediately afterwards at Hilton Head Beach and Tennis on 40 Folly Field Road.

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