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Fernandez Puts Family First, Still Graduates with Honors

Thursday, May 2, 2013
By Eladio Jaimez

FernandezA few days following his graduation from Texas State Technical College last week, Richard Fernandez was en route to Houston.

Fernandez didn’t have a job waiting for him nor was he headed to an interview. Fernandez was driving his two-year old daughter, Dani Lynn, for her monthly check up at an area hospital.

Last fall Dani was diagnosed with Hepatoblastoma, an uncommon form of liver cancer occurring in infants and children. And ever since, life’s been a roller coaster of emotions for Richard and his wife of nearly four years, Becky Lee.

Richard was a student of the Automotive Technology program at TSTC the past couple of years. And despite an arduous past nine months, Richard graduated with the prestigious honor of being a Board of Regents Scholar. BOR graduates are recognized for finishing with a perfect 4.0 Grade Point Average (GPA), meaning he never received a grade lower than an A during his program studies.

Maintaining a 4.0 GPA wasn’t easy for Richard. But it didn’t compare to watching his baby girl go through chemotherapy and even face possible death.

In August, Richard and Becky Lee noticed that Dani was “complaining a lot.”

“Her stomach felt hard…harder than usual,” Richard recalled. “She didn’t have any bowel movements so we took her in to see her doctor.”

Dani’s pediatrician quickly admitted her to Valley Baptist Medical Center where an ultrasound found a mass on her liver. A biopsy at the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg confirmed the Hepatoblastoma on August 21. Dani underwent her first round of chemo a few days later.

“We took her to Houston immediately and we’re glad we did because two days later she started to bleed out due to the biopsy,” Richard said.

The first day of the fall semester was scheduled for August 28 and Richard and Becky Lee had decided Richard would travel back and forth from Houston to Harlingen to finish his final semester. It didn’t pan out. That same day, Richard withdrew from school and turned his entire focus on Dani.

“The first day of school is also when I got called that she was bleeding out,” Richard said. “At that moment, everything stopped and I dropped everything to go to Houston.”

Dani was in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for two weeks after that and was immediately put on a donor’s list waiting for a liver transplant. On September 10, Richard and Becky Lee were notified that a compatible liver was found and on September 11 Dani underwent the transplant. On October 4, Dani was released from the hospital but required to remain in the Houston area until early November, when the family were given the green light to return to Harlingen.

Following the transplant, Becky Lee returned to work and Richard stayed with Dani around the clock.

“We had a lot of support from family and friends back home,” Richard said. “And I always planned to go back to school.”

In January, Richard had some unfinished business to take care of at TSTC. He registered for the spring semester and embarked on the final leg of his collegiate career. On Friday April 26, Richard was one of eight BOR scholars, a distinction he didn’t know existed until three weeks prior to graduation.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t see it coming,” Richard said. “I didn’t put too much effort into my studies in high school. So to know everything we’ve been through lately and earn this honor, I feel really accomplished. I guess you could say I’m proud of myself. My instructors were always very supportive of my family and I …  they helped me a lot.”

Richard recently started working for Boggus Ford in Harlingen, where he says his supervisors are also very understanding of his situation and Dani’s monthly visits to Houston for follow-ups.

Richard said the past nine months have brought this family closer together and forever changed them for the best.

“Before this, my wife and I would argue and what marriage doesn’t struggle at the beginning?” Richard said. “Our marriage has been through a lot these past few months. But we’re both better people because of it. You always read stories about people with children who have cancer but you really don’t know what they go through until you experience it.”

After her transplant, Richard and Becky Lee were asked if they’d donate Dani’s liver for further research on Hepatoblastoma.

They agreed.

“We received so much support and help when we were in Houston and now we try to help too,” Richard said. “Even if it’s giving a dollar to St. Jude’s Hospital at the convenience store when they ask you if you want to donate.”


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