Beating the odds: Hernandez earns high school diploma

Mom: “There was no hope. He was going to die.”

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

* Class of 2015 told to “dream, imagine, hope’
* Metastatic osteosarcoma defined
* The Gerson Therapy (PDF)
* Jonathan’s essay on the Gerson Therapy (PDF)

ROCKINGHAM — A gambler would argue Jonathan Hernandez shouldn’t be able to appear tonight at Raider Stadium for Richmond Senior High School’s 42nd annual commencement.

In fact, the statistics and science indicate Jonathan shouldn’t even be alive.

But the aspiring doctor long ago put his trust and faith in God and a therapy based on a clean, organic diet. It took a more circuitous route, but the 20-year-old Rockingham man will earn his high school diploma tonight. Health permitting, Hernandez will be one of 437 graduating seniors to take their cue from Principal Keith McKenzie and other school district officials that this, graduation, is only the beginning.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Jonathan Hernandez was recognized in May at the Academic Awards Banquet in May at Richmond Senior High School. Here, he stands with Christy Ransom, guidance counselor.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Jonathan Hernandez was recognized in May at the Academic Awards Banquet in May at Richmond Senior High School. Here, he stands with Christy Ransom, guidance counselor.

Hernandez and his parents, Pablo Hernandez and Diana Janica, sat down with The Pee Dee Post in an effort to say “thank you” to a God and community that, in the past eight years, truly has become home. The family arrived from Barranquilla, Colombia — a city of more than 1.8 million people — in 2007 through the Visiting International Faculty program.

“I’ll try,” Jonathan said. “I’d like to be there.”

Said Diana: “He has been dreaming of this day for years.”

It was, to say the least, culture shock when the family relocated to Richmond County, but they worked to make it home. Soon, Jonathan was a member of the Raider Marching Band and Janica resumed her teaching career as a Spanish instructor at Richmond Senior High School. For all intents and purposes, Jonathan was just like any other boy his age and the Hernandez family was all-American.

Then came the pain. It was in his right leg. There was a mass — 17 lesions, to be exact. At 15, Jonathan was diagnosed with metastatic osteosarcoma. He was prescribed the regular routine of radiation and chemotherapy. Jonathan was given four months to live — maybe a year with traditional medicine.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Jonathan Hernandez stands with his parents, Diana Janica and Pablo Hernandez, in their Rockingham home.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Jonathan Hernandez stands with his parents, Diana Janica and Pablo Hernandez, in their Rockingham home.

“He was going to die,” Janica said. “There was no hope.”

For his part, Jonathan said he was never afraid of death.

“If I die, I’ll be better in Heaven,” Jonathan said.

But his renewed sense of energy and improving health — his most recent bloodworm came back better than ever — propels him to a new sense of purpose.

“I know God has a plan for me here,” he said.

Through family connections, the family was referred to the Gerson Institute in San Diego, Calif. That resulted in a trip to a licensed Gerson clinic in Tijuana, Mexico. The program there tosses aside conventional Western medicine. Officials there believed Jonathan could be helped with an organic diet. He needed to keep himself free of germs — having all foods prepared with, and all showers taken with, distilled water, for one, along with a daily menu of nutritional supplements.

Submitted photo Jonathan Hernandez no longer has the flexibility or strength to be a member of the Raider Marching Band.

Submitted photo
Jonathan Hernandez no longer has the flexibility or strength to be a member of the Raider Marching Band.

But Paglo, a minister, and Diana, a teacher, would never have been able to afford this medical approach without help from a larger community. Diana figures that just about every church in Richmond County pitched in, along with diners at Pat’s Kitchen and, of course, an awful lot of people at Richmond Senior High School. They also gave significant credit to Lerida Razon, RSHS math teacher, and homebound coordinator Frank Liles.

Liles said Jonathan was a special student, and praised his dedication and determination. He had only one piece of advice to offer:

“Never give up,” Liles said. “Anything that comes easy is not worth having.”

Both Jonathan and Razón were honored on  May 21 with a “Helping Fight Against Cancer” award, with proceeds from the annual Rockin’ for a Reason benefit.

Razón said she and Janica became fast friends when Janica, as a mentor, helped show Razon around Richmond Senior High School and the community when she first arrived.

“If there’s going to be an event in school, we’re always together,” Razón said.

But that relationship didn’t help her with Jonathan when he enrolled in the district’s homebound student program. He didn’t need her much, she said.

“He’s very intelligent,” Razón said. “He pretty much gets the lesson just learning it on his own.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Lerida Razón, a math teacher at Richmond Senior High School, stands with guidance counselor Christy Ransom while receiving the "Helping fight against cancer" in May during the annual RSHS Academic Awards Banquet.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Lerida Razón, a math teacher at Richmond Senior High School, stands with guidance counselor Christy Ransom while receiving the “Helping fight against cancer” in May during the annual RSHS Academic Awards Banquet.

Jonathan, she said, goes beyond the typical lesson.

“Whenever he sees an equation, he’s asking how this equation came to be,” she said. “I don’t get that from my students. Most of the time — well, all of the time, they would say no, no, no. But Jonathan’s not like that. He would want to know.”

Razón has taught a Richmond Senior for seven years, including six in the classroom. This last year has been disrupted by her own health problems. Razón was diagnosed with Stage IV inflammatory breast cancer. Her friendship with Jonathan’s mother helped lead her to consider the Gerson Therapy.

“When I first got diagnosed, I refused to do chemotherapy,” Razón said.

She said she was given 18 months to live.

“I said that’s not good enough for me,” Razón said. “I still have a 3-year-old boy. My doctor told me, he said he could only prolong my life for three years. I said no, no, no, that’s not enough.”

But the Gerson Therapy wasn’t an option either, it seemed. To do that therapy full-time, she’d have to be home. Still, she followed the special diet as much as possible. She learned that “cancer … is not a death sentence anymore. You can actually use food that God has provided to help heal you.”

In only two months’ time, Razón’s tumor began to shrink. She said her doctor was “amazed.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Diana Janica sorts through "Get Well" cards, shirts from benefit events and other memorabilia related to her son Jonathan's journey through cancer.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Diana Janica sorts through “Get Well” cards, shirts from benefit events and other memorabilia related to her son Jonathan’s journey through cancer.

Her family became concerned when she lost a lot of weight. She stopped the special diet, the juicing, and the tumor grew back. Fast. She resorted to chemotherapy, and now “I’m doing great.” The tumor, she said, “it’s gone.”

With her own son in the background and at the forefront of her mind, Razón looks at a young man like Jonathan.

He is, she said, “special,” and hopes that Jonathan continues to pursue his dreams.

“He has a plan and what he wants to do with his life,” Razón said. “He has a plan of helping people.”

That path begins tonight by graduating high school. Whether he’s there or not, Jonathan has worked hard to earn his diploma and move on to the next step of his life. Jonathan said plans to take a year off and recover his health. Then, he said, he hopes to attend Harvard University and, later, train at the Gerson Institute.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Jonathan Hernandez, aided by Bill Ramsey, accepts his diploma from Principal Keith McKenzie.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Jonathan Hernandez, aided by Bill Ramsey, accepts his diploma from Principal Keith McKenzie.

Photo by Jerry Ethridge Jonathan Hernandez was able to attend the 42nd annual commencement ceremony Friday night at Richmond Senior High School. Here he stands with his 441 fellow graduates and turns his tassle from left to right.

Photo by Jerry Ethridge
Jonathan Hernandez was able to attend the 42nd annual commencement ceremony Friday night at Richmond Senior High School. Here he stands with his 441 fellow graduates and turns his tassle from left to right.

 

 

Filed in: Education, Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Rockingham

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  • Suzanne Clark

    Amazing young man. Best wishes to you and god bless your health and life and family. Stay strong.

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