A US citizen was left with a hefty medical bill totaling nearly $ 2 million from the US government, after spending seven months in a Texas military hospital recovering from life-threatening injuries.
“I never, ever in my life expected to experience something like this,”Alexis Hernandez told Anna Werner of CBS News. “I never imagined I would have to go through such pain.”
In January 2019, Hernandez arrived in Guadalajara, Mexico, to begin studying to become a doctor. He was 23 at the time.
“I have worked really hard all my life to make this real,” he said, adding that it was his dream to study medicine.
Just two days after arriving, Hernandez said he went to turn on a boiler to get hot water for his shower. Then the explosion happened.
“The flames were all over the apartment and the building. And I had to run through the apartment flames looking for a way out. In the end, I almost lost my life.” , he said.
Rescuers rescued him and took him to a Mexican hospital, but his severe burns required specialist treatment. As a US citizen, Hernandez was then airlifted to one of the leading burn treatment centers in the United States – the US Army Surgical Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
His physiotherapy assistant, Kelly Brown, said the burns affected “a huge percentage” of Hernandez’s body.
“There were only a few places that weren’t burned,” he said.
Even with medication, he was probably in great pain, Brown said. One of the only unburned places was the soles of his feet.
Hernandez’s recovery consisted of 19 surgeries and hundreds of hours of physiotherapy.
“I’m starting from scratch, I’m learning to walk, to eat, to breathe, to see, to dress, to do everything again,” he says.
Brown praised Hernandez as a “very determined young man”.
“He has suffered more suffering than any human should suffer,” he said. “And he fought, he always wanted to get better, and he always did his best and more.”
Hernandez said the day he returned home to Puerto Rico seven months later and was greeted by a supportive crowd was “amazing”.
“Seeing how happy they were, it was a really special moment for me,” he said, visibly moved.
But upon returning home, Hernandez found that his health insurance company – insurance provided by his father’s work as a police officer – had refused payment for his medical bills.
His father, Jamie Hernandez, said the company is now refusing to pay the claim, telling him it was because the accident happened in Mexico.
The U.S. government then sent him an invoice claiming he owed the US $ 1.7 million.– an amount that they even suggested that he pay by check or over the phone.
Hernandez said he felt “completely hopeless” when he saw the letter.
His local representative sent letters to the Treasury and Defense Departments, as well as the then Attorney General, William Barr, asking for the debt to be canceled. There was no response.
Now Hernandez is trying to move on, even though he owes a lot of money.
Asked what keeps him determined and motivated, Hernandez said he felt like he had been given a ‘second chance’ in life.
“I feel lucky. I am grateful that I can see the light of day, every day,” he said. “Not everyone gets a second chance. I’m not going to waste it.”
He wants to use this second chance, he said, to help others. Hernandez plans to return toand finally become a doctor, if the debt is not an obstacle.
“I’m working so hard to go back to school. Maybe with that I won’t be able to go back,” he worried.
Hernandez’s insurance company, First Medical, has not commented on his case despite multiple requests from CBS News. The US Treasury, Defense and Justice departments also did not comment.
Alexis Hernandez, meanwhile, has undergone two more surgeries this year and is facing several months of physical rehabilitation.