“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.” – John Holmes
A heart of service, a mindset of perseverance, and a deep connection to his Hispanic roots: these are the foundations that were essential while growing up, says Dennis Hernandez, M.D., chief executive officer at AdventHealth New Smyrna Beach in Florida.
“Growing up, my parents always wanted to give to those who were in need,” Hernandez recalls. “Even if they themselves did not have much.”
In fact, they would often recite Luke 3:10-11 with him: “… Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Dominican Republic, these same foundations carried him throughout his life and career. “I always knew I wanted to be a physician. My parents say that ever since I could speak, I would say I wanted to be a doctor,” said Hernandez.
His passion for the medical field continued as he served in pediatric emergency medicine for 25 years, during a time when it was just starting to become a specialty in the United States. “There were not many pediatric emergency departments, and I had the honor of leading the opening of three separate pediatric emergency departments.”
In 2016, his skills as a physician were tested like never before when a 16-year-old boy, Sebastian DeLeon, came to the emergency department in Orlando, Florida, where Hernandez worked. After some tests, he discovered a rare brain-eating amoeba was ravaging the young man’s brain. Hernandez put him in a medically induced coma for a week. Thankfully, the boy survived and is one of only four people to survive out of 154 recorded cases at the time. Hernandez credits God for guiding him to the right tests needed to diagnose the condition in time to save Sebastian’s life.
Hernandez wanted to continue to make a difference and considered how he could make a greater impact. When the opportunity arose to become chief executive officer (CEO) of AdventHealth New Smyrna Beach, he felt blessed to take on the new role.
As CEO, Hernandez has continued his passion for service through the AdventHealth Global Missions, a program which partners with Seventh-day Adventist hospitals around the world to share resources, education, equipment, and materials. When a new partnership was created with a medical center in the Dominican Republic, Hernandez jumped at the opportunity to be a co-executive sponsor.
In just the first few years of the partnership, Hernandez helped provide much-needed equipment, such as a CT scanner, hospital beds, and personal protective equipment. “It’s been an exciting journey so far,” he said.
Thinking back to the foundations that anchored and shaped his character early on, Hernandez is doing his best to pass them on to his children. He also prioritized service by taking his children on mission trips to instill in them the importance of serving others and giving back. In addition, he connected his children to his Hispanic heritage by teaching them about their family history and roots, and teaching them to speak Spanish.
Looking back on his career so far, Hernandez is humbled and grateful for the opportunities he has had to make an impact and to serve others. “I never thought a young boy like me would have the opportunity and honor to serve AdventHealth in this capacity, and have the opportunity to make a positive impact all the way back to where my roots come from.”
Hernandez looks forward to making a positive impact in both the local community and in the international partnership with the Dominican Republic. As he looks ahead, he is hopeful for the future of health care and fulfilling the mission of extending the healing ministry of Christ to the community.
AdventHealth | October 2022