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Cancer patient from Puerto Rico surprised with Christmas birthday party

Alvin Hernandez, 23, left island after hurricanes, now cancer-free


ORLANDO, Fla. – Christmas came early for one cancer patient at Florida Hospital for Children after he left Puerto Rico to continue his treatment after back-to-back hurricanes devastated the Caribbean island. 

Alvin Hernandez turned 23 years old Thursday. His doctors and nurses threw him a surprise party and granted his only birthday wish: to meet Santa Claus.

"It's been wonderful. It's unbelievable, wonderful," Hernandez's mother, Ivette Castillo, said. 

Hernandez celebrated his birthday in the oncology unit, thousands of miles away from his home back in Puerto Rico.

Hernandez, who has Down syndrome, was diagnosed with leukemia in June. He was being treated at a hospital in Puerto Rico until Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the U.S. territory. 

"We didn't have any electricity, we didn't have any water, food or gas to move around," Castillo said. "We were in the hospital for both hurricanes and he had an infection, so we had to stay there."
 

The Puerto Rican hospital lost power. Hernandez and his family were one of the last patients to leave. They took a humanitarian flight to Orlando in September.

He checked into Florida Hospital for Children this week so he could continue his treatment.

His doctors and nurses wanted to get results for Hernandez and make sure he had a special birthday.

"I got to hear yesterday that he loved Christmas and clowns, so we wanted to do something really special," said Dr. Heather Allewelt, a pediatric oncologist.

They surprised him with a Christmas-themed birthday party, complete with decorations, presents and cake. The big man himself, Santa Claus, also stopped by to share his birthday wishes.

"Our goal is to achieve many more birthdays, hopefully betters ones that are not in the hospital," Allewelt said. "But this one could be as good as it could be while he's here."

It's a gift his mother didn't think would happen this year so far away from home.

"Every year for his birthday, Nov. 2, I decorate my house, my home for Christmas and he loves clowns," Castillo said. "We were sad. Originally I wasn't going to tell him it was his birthday but they made me change my mind."

Alvin Hernandez, of Puerto Rico, celebrates his birthday at Florida Hospital in Orlando. Hernandez was diagnosed with leukemia in june and now is in remission.
Alvin Hernandez, of Puerto Rico, celebrates his birthday at Florida Hospital in Orlando. Hernandez was diagnosed with leukemia in june and now is in remission.

Castillo told News 6 she doesn't know when they can return to the island, but she is thankful for all the support and help her son, who is now free of cancer, is receiving in Central Florida.

"At home we couldn't provide any of the needs he had. Of course, we made the right decision. It's the hardest one," she said.

Hernandez is checking out of the hospital Friday. His doctors told News 6 he will continue to come back to the hospital for checkups during the next two years.


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