ACC Graduate Spotlight: Austen Hernandez
At American Career College's commencement ceremony, new graduates are happy to walk across the stage and receive their diploma.
ACC-Ontario massage therapy graduate Austen Hernandez is happy to just walk.
In 2008, Hernandez was in a horrific car accident that nearly killed him. Technically, it did — twice.
What Inspires You?
"This might be a little corny, but the ‘Book of Life’ inspires me.
"We each write our own book and every day I wake up and then get to write down whatever I want. Every day is an adventure. And I tackle it one day at a time."
— Austen Hernandez
"The first time I died was during the helicopter ride from Hesperia to Arrowhead Regional Hospital and then the second time was on the operating table," Hernandez said. "After the first surgery they gave me two hours. After the first two hours, they said I might make it through the night. After the first day, they told my family to not get their hopes up and to plan for funeral arrangements.
"And then I woke up from a coma and they told me that I was never going to walk or talk again," he said.
Hernandez eventually proved the doctors wrong, but it didn't happen overnight. He still doesn't remember much from his nine-month stay in the rehabilitation hospital. Less than a year after his accident though, he was back on his feet and trying to contribute.
"I just strengthened myself and just told myself 'Don't quit' and 'Just keep going' and within a month of getting out of the rehabilitation hospital, I actually did a Walk for Thoughts to raise money for brain research," he said. "March is brain injury awareness month and it was kind of ironic that it was the month I got out of hospital from a brain injury."
Now, nearly a decade later, Hernandez is ready to help brain injury survivors with what he learned while attending ACC-Ontario's massage therapy program. He eventually wants to become a physical therapy assistant but plans to work his way there via massage.
"It's a stepping-stone. I actually took a physical therapy aide class before and massage was part of it," he said. "I learned that I have good technique and the ability to do it, because it's something that not everyone can do. You have to know what you were doing."
Hernandez said he never used his injury as an excuse to be lazy. If anything, he said, he used it to motivate classmates. Hernandez was on the honor roll for each one of his classes.
"People complain about stuff being hard and I always say 'I have brain damage and I can do it, so you can too,'" he said. "I don't let it hold me back."
Hernandez said he still isn't 100 percent — and probably never will be — but he's happy and proud to be at "99.9 percent."
"I always like talking about my accident because it was the biggest thing I've ever had to overcome in my life. I know that not a lot of people have overcome something that big and I'm just thankful that I had the support and the willpower to keep moving."
In March 2017, Hernandez — who was supposed to never walk again — will stride across the stage at ACC's commencement in Ontario. Hernandez hasn't decided right now what's next for him, but Hernandez does like where he's headed.
"I needed to make a decision on what I was gonna do for the rest of my life and I made the decision to go to school. So far it's working out very well," he said. "And I see a bright future for myself."
ACC cannot guarantee employment.
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