After surviving an accident in Mexico that claimed the lives of his two friends, doctors told 20-year-old Billy Jean Paul Hernandez that he would never walk again.
The accident happened Dec. 30 in Ciudad Valles, Mexico.
Upon hearing from doctors there that he could be paralyzed, his mother, Sandra Ruiz of Brownsville, decided it was best to return to the United States for Hernandez’s treatment.
Hernandez, who had been a student at Browns ville Early College High School, was living with his grandparents in Ciudad Valles, when the accident happened.
He described himself as once a “rebel,” but said after moving in with his grandparents and sustaining himself by
selling elote en vaso, or cups of corn, he eventually found God.
After an almost nine-hour drive in an ambulance, Ruiz and her son arrived at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville, where Hernandez received a number of surgeries.
Hernandez said he never lost sensation in his right leg after the accident, but lost hope when he heard he would never walk again.
“I thought I would have to depend on people for the rest of my life,” Hernandez said.
When Hernandez was going to be discharged from VBMC, the South Texas Rehabilitation Center evaluated him and placed him in its care.
Based on his injuries, he was a prime candidate for the center’s services, said Letty Kretz, director of Marketing and Business Development at STRH.
Eva Anger, an occupational therapist at STRH, where Hernandez quickly recovered from his injuries, said it’s very unlikely that someone with his kind of injuries could walk again.
Hernandez suffered three fractures in his spinal cord, one in the cervical spine, Anger said.
“It was pretty severe,” Anger said. “When you have that high of a level of spinal cord injury most of the patients don’t walk.”
Ruiz said her son was supposed to be at the rehabilitation center for a week, but on the last day of his stay, doctors noticed improvement and decided to let him stay for an extra week.
It was then that therapy and stimulating his muscles with electricity worked, Anger said.
“The first day we saw him walk was amazing,” Anger said.
Although this is a rare occurrence, Anger said Hernandez was determined.
“His family was here around the clock,” Anger said. “He’s young and as tragic as it is, young people stand a really good chance because the body is not finished yet.”
Ruiz said she had a really hard time accepting the notion that her son wouldn’t walk again.
“It all happened too quickly,” Ruiz said.
Hernandez is now relieved that he can walk. He takes cautious, wobbly steps. He is now headed for another facility in Austin that will help him, thanks to the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Ruiz said.
The South Texas Rehabilitation Hospital has been ranked in the top 10 percent of inpatient rehabilitation facilities, Anger said.
“Inpatient rehab is the best chance our patients have of getting better,” Anger said.
After he is well, Hernandez said he plans to return to live with his grandparents and attend a technical school.