The U.S. government billed a citizen for almost $2 million after he spent months in a military hospital trying to recuperate from severe burn injuries.
In January 2019, Alexis Hernandez, a resident of Puerto Rico, was involved in an explosion in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he was studying to be a doctor. Two days after he got to the country, he turned on a boiler to get hot water for a shower, when the blast occurred.
“I never expected, never in my life to live through something like this,” Hernandez told CBS News. “I never imagined that I will have to live through such pain.” He was 23 at the time of the incident.
“I’ve been working really hard all my life to make this real,” he said. “The flames were all over the apartment and the building. And I had to run through the flames in the apartment looking for a way out. In the end, I almost lost my life.”
He was first taken to a Mexican hospital but the facility couldn’t handle his injuries, so he was transported to the U.S. Army’s Institute of Surgical Research in San Antonio, Texas. Hernandez has had 19 surgeries and hundreds of hours of physical therapy; one of the only areas of his body that wasn’t burned in the explosion was the bottom of his feet.
“I start from zero again, I learn how to walk, how to eat, how to breathe, how to see, how to dress myself, how to do everything again,” he said.
He flew back to Puerto Rico seven months after the accident, coming home to an unthinkable medical bill. He realized his father’s health insurance, which is provided through his job as a police officer, wouldn’t cover Hernandez’s medical expenses because the incident happened in Mexico. The bill totaled $1.7 million, owed to the U.S. Treasury.
He said the letter made him feel “completely hopeless.” His local representative has tried to get in touch with the Treasury and Defense Departments but hasn’t received a response. Hernandez is trying to remain positive about the situation, saying he feels like’s gotten a “second chance” at life. “I feel fortunate. I am grateful that I can see the light of the day, every day,” he said. “Not everyone has a second chance. I’m not going to waste it.”
He’s still pursuing medical school and his dreams of becoming a doctor: “I am working so hard to go back to school. Maybe with this, I’m not going to be able to go back.”