Hospital surprises cancer patient who evacuated from Puerto Rico with Christmas-themed birthday party

Published: 
November 2, 2017

Birthday songs, Christmas carols and sparkling decorations filled the lobby of Florida Hospital for Children’s oncology unit as Alvin Hernandez’s caretakers granted his only birthday wish — to see Santa Claus.

The 23-year-old Leukemia patient, who also has Down syndrome, was being in treated in Puerto Rico when hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the island. Alongside his mom, Ivette Castillo, Alvin spent endless hours in a hospital without power or food after the major storm destroyed the island.

“After the Hurricanes hit, we had nothing left. We had no food, no electricity and no way to leave the hospital,” Castillo said. “His life depends on others caring for him, so when we were given the opportunity to leave, the decision wasn’t difficult.” 

Alvin’s immune system is non-existent, causing him to be greatly susceptible to infections and the most common of ailments. In an island devastated by unprecedented natural disasters, Alvin’s life was at risk. The family made it out just in time when a humanitarian flight brought them to Florida.

“What they’ve been through is unimaginable,” said Dr. Heather Allewelt, a hematologist oncologist at Florida Hospital for Children. “We have several patients, staff and friends who have been affected one way or another from the disaster in Puerto Rico, so we can all relate to their pain. It’s what makes us try that much harder to make his day special.”

Alvin is now cancer free and will be leaving the hospital Friday.

Thanks to the party planning by Florida Hospital for Children employees, Christmas Dreams and Base Camp, Alvin had a festive party with not one, but three birthday cakes. And his wish came true — Santa Claus made a special trip from the North Pole.

“It’s been wonderful,” Castillo said.

For media inquiries only, contact Florida Hospital Corporate Communications at 407-303-5950 or FHCorporateCommunicationsTeam@flhosp.org.

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