Hailing from Camuy, Puerto Rico, Alexis Joel Hernandez, 26, embarked on one of the most important journeys of his life back in January 2019, when he decided to travel to Guadalajara to study medicine. The then-23-year-old arrived in Mexico with his parents and quickly got situated as he prepared to start classes. 

Then, the unthinkable happened. Just before starting classes, and right after his parents left the apartment, Hernandez turned on the water heater to take a shower — causing an explosion that set off a fire. 71% burnt as a result of the explosion, and this aspiring medical student’s life changed forever in the blink of an eye.

Hernandez explained to mitú, “I left my house in Puerto Rico [and went] to Guadalajara to study medicine, like a lot of other Puerto Ricans have done. It was a beautiful experience because I wasn’t just going to study, I was going to learn about a new culture.”

He continued, “My life changed, it changed the way I look, but I have overcome it and I’m here battling.” 

While the accident occurred in Mexico, Hernandez was transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, for his life-saving treatment. Still, the recovery was long and his life was at risk for months. In this process, Hernandez even had to relearn how to eat and walk.

Hernandez said the recovery period was “extremely long” and he needed to have “a lot of patience,” because he could no longer do simple things he could always do before, or even be self-sufficient.

He explained, “The process was painful, because moving with burns hurts, and it was difficult because I was always an independent, young person that could do everything, and I suddenly had to depend on others.” 

Hernandez gave the recovery process his all and focused only on overcoming adversity and also thanked his supportive family and medical team that helped him through this period.

The young man posted a thread on Twitter that took his followers along his journey, which shows just how arduous the road to recovery was, and what a warrior he is.

The thread shows Hernandez as he spent 20 days in a coma and shows photos of him learning to eat and walk again.

Today, he says he feels like he was “born again,” and has succeeded in re-learning almost everything he once knew how to do, like writing, walking, and getting dressed.

That’s exactly why he celebrates the date of the accident, January 19, in the way other people might celebrate their birthday. “I celebrate it because it is the day I was born again… I could have died… I’m here, I’m alive, and with everything I can do today, I’m thankful to God and to all the people I have met along the way,” he explained.

Luckily, Hernandez’s parents were not in the apartment when the fire occurred. In fact, when it happened, they had just arrived back at their home in Puerto Rico. “They got their luggage and went right back to Mexico,” he remembered.

Once back alongside their son, Hernandez’s parents were always next to him and have dedicated much of their lives to getting him back on his feet. They even took on less work at their jobs in order to do so.

Still, there’s no doubt the accident was extremely painful, and he explains that the pain lasted “more than a year.” 

Another part of the journey was anything but hopeful, and made Hernandez’s recovery process even more difficult: he was left with a $1.7 million medical debt for almost 2 years, which eventually was pardoned.

While he no longer has to pay the million-dollar debt, Hernandez said, “It was very difficult and painful because I thought, ‘This is the price to pay for surviving?’ I felt like it was a punishment.” 

As a med student himself, Hernandez says the medical insurance industry is “a big problem that affects all of us. I feel that the system is very unfair, and gives a lot of resources to insurance companies. The resources don’t go where they should go, which is to the patients,” describing how people are denied proper treatment and medicines.

Looking towards the future as a medical student at the San Juan Bautista School of Medicine, he plans on treating his patients “in a different way.” A way that is fair and gives them access to the resources they deserve. There’s no doubt his harrowing experience gave him insight into the patient experience that is hard to come by, and is a silver lining in his story: “I see it differently than others. It’s not important if a patient can pay or not, the important thing is to care for them.” 

Hernandez also plans on becoming a doctor in the physical medicine and rehabilitation field, known as physiatry, since he now knows first-hand “the power it has in helping people.” 

His experience also changed the way he sees his own life. “It helped me appreciate life, appreciate the fact that I can open my eyes, breathe, have health, and walk. I enjoy walking a lot because, at one point, it was very difficult for me.”

Another key (and inspiring) factor in Hernandez’s recovery was the power of music. The student remembers he would often play songs to aid his recovery and get his mind off of the excruciating pain he felt. He says, “I would always play music in the hospital,” even dancing with his medical team to “Criminal” by Ozuna and Natti Natasha while re-learning to walk. 

“The hospital environment is very cold, and playing music changes the mood, [so]I would wake up and play music. Bathing was very difficult, so I would play music and try to get my mind off of [the pain],” he explained. “[Music] really helped a lot. People should never underestimate the power of music,” pointing to reggaeton artists like Bad Bunny as the music he would play the most.

Hernandez even attended Bad Bunny’s concert back in July, where he was able to break his own record by standing up for around four hours!

Today, Hernandez can barely believe he can “study, drive, and do everything,” and looks to always convey the message that “Anything can be accomplished, sometimes you have to sacrifice a lot, and you might lose faith, but if you stay firm and keep trying every day, no problem is forever. Difficult situations can be overcome,” and there’s no doubt the future doctor knows that for certain.