Daniel J Vance

You won’t find too many dads that love like this.

Joseph Hernandez of Auburn, Washington, knew before his son’s birth that his son would have a birth defect, spina bifida. The only thing in doubt was whether Joseph would hang around to help raise little Joey. Hernandez and girlfriend Kandace were both 16, and Joey not only would have spina bifida, but also would be their first child.

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In a telephone interview, now 30-year-old Hernandez said, “Kandace was impressed that I stayed around. She wasn’t sure whether I would be man enough to take care of my responsibilities. She knew I could have left after finding out Joey had a disability. Many (male) teens wouldn’t have stayed. We’re married today.”

The National Institutes of Health defines spina bifida as a “neural tube defect caused by the failure of the fetus’s spine to close properly during the first month of pregnancy.” Joey was affected by having permanent paralysis from the knees down and now at 14 uses a wheelchair to get around. He also had a permanent brain shunt installed early on to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid.

Said Hernandez, “Before getting his first wheelchair at 3, Joey used to move around the house on a skateboard. Then he got his wheelchair and immediately took off like he really knew what he was doing. It was amazing.” Hernandez said people in public sometimes ask why his son uses a wheelchair, often assuming he was injured. He just tells them his son was born a different way.
In school, Joey is bright and has a special love for computers.

Hernandez over the years has had a desire to have more people view his son and other children with various disabilities for “who they are on the inside and not the outside.” In that vein, years ago, he had a prototype “superhero-like” toy made of his son for his son to use in play. That gave him an idea four years ago to turn that toy into an illustrated comic book for sale over the Internet, called Joey the Little Genius. Now Hernandez is in the process of seeking funding and turning the comic book into an animated cartoon for TV or Internet broadcast. Hernandez now has a similar project in the works for children with autism.

He said, “I just want to do anything to help kids.”

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