‘I’m afraid your dad isn’t going to make it.’ I had to come up with $45,000, in the middle of a pandemic.’: Daughter dresses as Disney princesses to give dying father second chance at life

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“Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved fairytales very much. Little did she know, one day she’d create one for a higher purpose. After all, ‘happily ever after’ is not about the ending, it’s all about the journey.

When we grow up, we have no time to dream anymore. Our inner child gets buried in the shadows, while we desperately search for some light. We forget how to play, we don’t know how to nurture ourselves, and everything that once made us happy doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. The consequences of growing up are terrible for that child, who once looked up towards the future dreaming of who they would become. Even when my adult self is constantly judging her own journey, I know my inner child would be very proud of this story. I look back and I can’t see exactly where I was when I let her go, but in this chapter of my life I’ve realized how much I need to have her around, even if it’s just for a little while.

Courtesy of Yessi Hernández

Playing a princess on the streets of New York City was never part of my plan. I came here six years ago to become an actress, to run away from an oppressed country, and to start a life with my now husband. I came with with suitcases filled with dreams, looking for a home away from home, while half of my heart stayed back in Caracas.

Emigrating was not a painless decision, because it meant leaving my parents behind. As an only child, I grew up being very close to them, and the difficulties we went through only brought us closer together. I’ve never doubted that coming here was the best choice for me, even more so after my dad got sick. Living here gave me the chance to support my family through this unfortunate episode, and that’s something I’m very grateful for. Leaving them, ironically, helped me be more present.

Courtesy of Yessi Hernández

My dad got sick with a very complicated case of acute diverticulitis that compromised several organs in his body. The humanitarian crisis in our country caused his insurance to become useless since all expenses need to be paid in American dollars. Being able to afford a medical emergency is something very few people are able to do back home. The rest of us have had to learn to say goodbye. The system is completely broken: broken people, broken families, broken hearts. The most basic human rights are a luxury. To get proper medical attention, the only way in is out. Being an immigrant is no longer about finding a new life abroad, but helping the lives of those who stayed behind.

Having my dad on the verge between life and death turned my world upside down. Our parents teach us a lot of things, but they don’t teach us how to live without them, even though it’s the natural course of life. In that moment, I had a flashback of all the happy memories I shared with my dad, and a flash forward of all the moments we wouldn’t be able to have because we couldn’t afford medical attention. That reality hit me really hard, breaking my heart into a million pieces and killing any little fantasy still alive inside me. Unlike Elsa, I wasn’t ready to let it go. (But more on Disney princesses later!)

Every girl thinks their dad is the best one in the world, and they are absolutely right. Mine is too. I’m not exaggerating: I won the father lottery. My dad was the kind of guy who worked all day long and then came home to spend time with me. He used to play dolls, watch movies, and read me fairytales until I fell asleep. He never complained, he was never too tired. That sense of devotion and commitment stayed with me forever; so when this moment came, it was very clear to me: it was my turn to take care of him.

Courtesy of Yessi Hernández

We are never ready when tragedy strikes, especially in a year like 2020. It hit all of us very hard. On top of all the things we were already dealing with, I had to figure out how to get the $45,000 my dad needed for his surgeries, hospitalization, and medicines, which made me have a mental breakdown. How much can you work to get such an amount of money in a just couple of months? What can an actress do in the middle of a pandemic? Why is healthcare such a privilege? My head was imploding with so many questions I had no answers for.

Suddenly, I felt like a little girl who was facing the world for the first time. I felt absolutely lost. I was working two jobs and sending my parents my whole income, while my husband worked to support our home, but it wasn’t enough. Everything I had to give was still not enough. I was working from home when my mom called me to say she was afraid my dad wasn’t going to make it. It was 2 days before my birthday. The doctors had warned us his body was very weak, and he was not responding to the treatments. After starting a strong course of antibiotics for 5 days, he was still not getting any better. A surgeon brought up the possibility of doing a colostomy to cut out the infection, even though it was very risky given his condition. His life was already at stake. We had nothing to lose.

Courtesy of Yessi Hernández

I decided to open a GoFundMe campaign as a desperate cry for help, and I’ll be honest, I felt a little embarrassed. There’s something in society that teaches us to feel ashamed when we ask for help, even when we are drowning. We are taught to be strong and self-sufficient, to always have everything under control. My friends and family helped me understand it is perfectly fine to say it out loud: ‘I’m not okay, and that’s okay.’

When it’s about other people, I’m always the first one to offer help, but my vulnerability made me feel terribly uncomfortable. Why was it so hard for me to recognize I couldn’t do this alone? Taking the first step was the hardest part. Then I remembered Martin Luther King and his marvelous words: ‘You don’t need to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.’ And so I did. It felt like ripping off a band aid.

I had made my decision. ‘I’m going to do this campaign, and I’m going to save my dad!’ I understood this was bigger than my pride, bigger than anything in my world. I decided to transform my insecurities into confidence, and my fears into courage. The only question I had was, ‘How do I get our story out there?’ Even though we received a lot of support in the first few days, I knew if I wanted to reach the goal, I had to do more than just share the link.

I started dressing up as a princess to honor all those fairytales my dad used to read to me when I was little. He used to tell me stories, and now I get to tell his. In my darkest time, my inner child came back with a light ready to rescue me and save her biggest hero. In that moment, all those little broken pieces of myself came together with the hope of finding a way out. Turns out, it was something I always had within me.

Take your broken heart, make it into art – Carrie Fisher

Courtesy of Yessi Hernández

Since then, I’ve been traveling through New York City dressed as Cinderella, Elsa, Anna and Rapunzel on a mission to save a life and spread joy to others. I go to playgrounds, take pictures and give balloons away, only asking people in return to help us by sharing our effort on social media or by donating whatever they can to our GoFundMe campaign.

Courtesy of Yessi Hernández

My husband, my mom, and my dog have been my biggest support system and my dad, my strongest motivation. We’ve had many fairy god mothers in this journey: from my incredible boss at Blue Balloon Parties, to every single one of the people we’ve encountered on the way. I’m incredibly grateful. I was so moved by all the kindness surrounding us, I decided to do a video to document it…and it went viral!

Courtesy of Yessi Hernández

We still have a long way to go, but I’ve never been more inspired. This journey has shaped me in many ways. It’s making me a harder worker, a stronger woman, a better daughter. It’s not only helping me save my dad, it’s healing me. It’s giving me a purpose. It’s helping me embrace my past, my present, and my future. It’s making me grow. Every time I put on my dress, I go back to being that little girl who dreamed to become a princess one day, and I think, ‘Hey, little one, we did it!’

Courtesy of Yessi Hernández

As for now, my happily ever after is no other than giving my dad the second chance at life he deserves. Ever since I was born, my mom and dad were always worried to be the best parents they could be; and now I’m worried to be the best daughter they could have. Now, it’s my turn.

Love doesn’t make the world go ‘round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile – Franklin P. Jones”

Courtesy of Yessi Hernández
Courtesy of Yessi Hernández
Courtesy of Yessi Hernández

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Yessi Hernández of New York. You can follow her journey on Instagram. You can make a donation to her father’s GoFundMe. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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‘Here’s to the girl dads who watch princess movies, slow dance in the kitchen, and let tiny hands put polish on their big toes.’: Mom pens appreciation letter to girl dads, ‘You are building hearts with your construction hands’

‘I was so scared of my daddy dying. I hated watching him throw up and not feel well. I knew in my heart I could help him. I just knew it!’: 10-year-old girl starts ‘secret’ plan to save father’s life 

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