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Tears and Hope
Painful experiences led Henry García to give himself to others at PADRES Contra el Cáncer

Lucero Amador
Life and Style writer

April 14, 2004

The farewell was heart-wrenching. It meant saying farewell to his parents, his brother and his childhood to absorb, in an instant and with maturity, what he was living.

It was 1962 and the first difficult phase in the life of Henry García, when at 11 years of age, he abandoned Cuba as a refugee, to arrive in this country.

“I stopped being a boy at that age, upon leaving my country without my parents, to go to a completely foreign land,” he says.

“Separations” have achieved big changes in the life of García. The first was being far away from his parents and the second, the death of Neil, his son.

Paradoxically, due to these unfortunate events, García learned the value of life, humility, the true dedication to others, and the spirit of helping without receiving a thing in return.

He is the father, businessman and president of the foundation PADRES Contra El Cáncer, an organization that helps hundreds of Hispanic families that have children with this condition.

“There is a great need for support for these children [with cancer[, many of them need financial and psychological help and love,” comments García.

Henry García was a child of the Pedro Pan Operation, the largest child exodus in the 20th century.

This program for refugee children took effect soon after the success of the Cuban Revolution. During 1961 and 1962, more than 14,000 children and youth left the Caribbean island.

Facing the changes originated by Fidel Castro’s regime, and the rumors of sending children and teenagers to the Soviet Union, as had occurred in Spain during the 1930s, parents accepted to exile their children.

Various camps were created with funds from the American government and Henry, and his brother Wilfredo, were separated in different camps. Three years later, in 1965, they saw their parents again.

“We came from a beautiful home, with a close family and all of a sudden we were alone,” commented the 54 year-old exile.

The Garcia family stayed in Florida for a while, but due to the adverse economic situation the state was facing, the government placed them with a family in Glendale, California.

Uniting Strengths

Everything seemed to be going well in Henry’s life after that painful phase. However, years later, he was confronted with the “most difficult phase” in his life.

“We were programmed to lose a father, a brother, but not a son,” he said, “it’s a cruel pain without comparison.”

In 1988 Felipa and Henry learned that their 13-year-old son Neil had leukemia.

During his treatment, the teenager was a patient a Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and during that time, a new Hispanic organization was being created to help parents and children with cancer.

In 1989, 14 days before his birthday, Neil dies.

There, in the hospital hallways, upon witnessing the death of various Hispanic children, like Neil, who have cancer, PADRES Contra el Cáncer was born.

“After Neil’s death, I withdrew completely from the association,” he says. “I wanted to separate myself from everything and try to relieve my pain; it was very difficult to continue to live that pain day after day.”

Ten yeas later, destiny once again united García with the organization.

“One day I received a call from the company where I was working; they were letting me know that in four days I was going to be visited by Don Francisco,” explained García. “Two days would be dedicated to promote the company and the rest to whatever I decided.”

Henry García thought about taking the television host to the PADRES Contra el Cáncer organization, where he no longer had ties.

“Returning to the hospital was one of the most difficult moments of my life,” he recalls with a sad expression on his face. “Having to walk those hallways, the rooms, that bone marrow transplant wing…but that’s where my return to the organization was born.”

From that moment on, García reintegrated himself to collaborate with them and now is president of the organization, which is made up of 2,000 families, of which not all have children with cancer.

Day by day, with the blessing of the Virgin of Alms of Cuba, an image that Neil always carried with him until his last breath, Henry Garcia works tirelessly to bring resources to the foundation.

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