Life is full of challenges. Challenges that sometimes blindside us, that sometimes challenge everything that we are made of. On December 26, 2017, 18-year-old Erwin Hernandez was dealt with the biggest challenge of his young life. Due to a freak accident, Hernandez was faced with an above the knee amputation of his right leg. But ever since this tragic incident, the community of Stamford has rallied behind him in support.
During the past two years, Hernandez’s school (Stamford High) has thrown numerous fundraisers to assist his recovery and his teacher started a GoFundMe page immediately after his accident—foreseeing his major medical bills. The mayor of Stamford even declared April 26th Erwin Hernandez Day. But with this kind of injury, financial issues don’t let up easily. That is why the Tarzia Foundation is giving half of the proceeds of last weekend’s Hispanic Day Fundraiser, which was held Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Italian Center in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, to Hernandez to continue to aid in his recovery. While the foundation is still working out the proceeds amount, early numbers show they raised around $4 to $5,000 over the weekend for Hernandez’s cause.
Founder of the Tarzia Foundation, Nicola Tarzia, says that this is a cause that is very close to his heart. He feels a personal connection with Hernandez’s journey, for he too graduated from Stamford High, and from the ages of 15 to 20 he took care of his father, who was handicapped, an amputee, for the last five years of his life. “It’s a great cause and one that I feel connected to,” Tarzia says. “My friend [Jenny Reinoso-Castellano, a volunteer at the foundation] approached me and suggested that we support him and I thought it was just a great idea.”
Reinoso-Castellano says that the event went really great, there was a great turn out and they are thankful for everyone who came out, adding, “Erwin is very happy with all the support that people have shown him, and the apartment that the Tariza Foundation helped him get. He is settled now, has a support dog, and he is doing good. And we told him, we will always be there for him, we will not leave him.”
Hernandez says the support from the Tarzia Foundation is really important to him. “I thank the Tarzia Foundation and its staff for being very helpful and supportive.” He also mentions his family, that his family’s support is also essential, saying, “Even if they are not living here they always try to make me feel loved and important.”
Hernandez left Guatemala in 2015 and in doing so left his whole family behind except his sister Iris. He says, “It’s very hard not to have my family here, my mom, grandparents, siblings … but from them is where my inspiration comes from. I am trying to recover 100 percent because they are always telling me how strong I am and how proud they are of me for everything I have done no matter the distance. That’s why I try my hardest to do everything to recover so I can be proud of myself and they can be proud of me as well. I want to make them feel happy that I haven’t forgotten all I learned from them and where I came from. And also I want to be an inspiration and an example for people in the community who are facing the same situation or different situations because when we put God in the first place, everything is possible!”
Amputation is a major health burden and also very traumatic. Patients are challenged with a long recovery period that can cause emotional and mental instability. Learning to live with new limitations can be difficult and extremely frustrating. In addition, it causes hurdles for patients being able to support themselves. Reinoso-Castellano says Hernandez is unable to find work due to his ongoing recovery treatments. “He’s still seeing psychiatrists, doctors, physical therapy … it takes his whole day,” she says.
This is why foundations like Tariza’s are so important. They were able to help him secure his new apartment, suitable for his disability, which has helped him get acclimated. “I was nervous because it’s hard to find a place to afford and also accessible for my disability,” says Hernandez. “But now I feel better, more calm and excited for moving into my new apartment. Jenny and I went to different places around Stamford until we found it, we filled out an application and got into the process they have for qualification and thank God I got the apartment.”
Hernandez says he would like to return to work as soon as possible, but he is focused on his recovery right now. Giving a little insight into his recovery journey, Hernandez explains, “Being an above the knee amputee is my biggest challenge. Back in April, I had a revisionary surgery that made me start my recovery from the beginning again. Everything is still challenging for me, I’m still recovering and getting through all of these challenges and trying to accomplish my dreams and goals and I am thankful to God for putting people like Nicola Tarzia and Jenny and Attorney Alex Martinez in my life who have been very supportive since the day I met them, as well my girlfriend Ashley Alfaro, who’s been really supportive and helpful during all this process, being always by my side and telling me that I am strong and capable of doing many, many things.”
Looking ahead to the future Hernandez says he can’t imagine what he will be doing because he is so focused on the present, getting used to his new apartment and his new prosthetic leg, but he says, perhaps he might become a prosthetist or physical therapist so he can help other amputees.
Hernandez’s story has been an inspiration to so many, and not just for the adversity he is facing and overcoming everyday but for the person he is. His teachers and peers sing his praises and he seems to touch the hearts of everyone he meets. He is a fighter and only one month after getting fitted for a prosthetic leg he walked in his graduation, where he reminded everyone, with words written on his cap, that: “Every step you take is one step closer to where you want to be.”
To help support Erwin Hernandez’s recovery you can donate to his GoFundMe campaign HERE.