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A Patient's Voice

Family Matters - Spring 2009

Ulises Hernandez

It’s not every day that a couple gets married inside an inpatient room at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center — but then again, not everyone knows Ulises Hernandez.

Hernandez became a patient at M. D. Anderson in spring 2001 when he was diagnosed with sarcoma. For the majority of his time as a patient, Hernandez was treated in the Children’s Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson, where Cynthia Herzog, M.D., served as his primary pediatric oncologist. In recent weeks, his disease began to progress and 21-year-old Hernandez enrolled in a Phase I trial under Razelle Kurzrock, M.D., professor and chair of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics.

During his inpatient stay on P12, Hernandez not only witnessed but played a large role in making his dream come true with the help of the P12 staff. On Feb. 12, Hernandez, dressed in shirt and tie, watched from his inpatient bed as his mother, Alejandrina, married her long-time boyfriend — a man Hernandez looked to as a father.

“I love him a lot,” said Hernandez about his new stepfather. “He’s like my guardian, and I’m glad he’s in my life.”

As the wedding day neared, Hernandez voiced to the P12 staff that he wanted to do something special for the soon-to-be married couple. It wasn’t long before the group came up with an idea to surprise the couple with a special reception. When Hernandez’s mother showed up to exchange her vows, friends greeted her with a special wedding dress and wedding bands for the ceremony. While she readied herself in a bathroom down the hall, several nurses rushed in to decorate Hernandez’s room with balloons, flowers and streamers.

Dressed in an ivory-colored dress, Alejandrina made her way down an aisle of rose petals toward the room while nurses and other guests hummed the “Wedding March” in harmony. Pastor Jose Luis Romero from Iglesia Cristiana Peña de Hereb officiated the bilingual ceremony as a room filled with family, friends and staff watched.

Following the ceremony, guests enjoyed a wedding cake donated by M. D. Anderson Catering. Close to 70 visitors came to visit the family on their special day — a day that may not have happened without Hernandez’s insistence.

“Getting married means unity. I wanted to make sure they never separated in case something happened to me,” said Hernandez. “Now that this dream has come true, I’m ready for anything.”

“Ulises is mature beyond his years by putting others before himself, even as he suffers from his disease,” says Martha Brown, clinical and discharge nurse on P12. “Everything he did or asked for was to make things easier for his mom and his family.”

Throughout his years at M. D. Anderson, Hernandez participated in numerous pediatric events and camps, touching the lives of staff and fellow patients.

“Even when faced with the news that his cancer had progressed on multiple occasions, Ulises maintained a positive outlook,” says Child Life Specialist Uttesha Lumpkin. “He is an inspiration to his peers as well as the health care team who had the privilege of working with him.”

Ulises Hernandez passed away on Friday, Feb. 20, at M. D. Anderson. His family gave us permission to share their story.

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