Overcoming barriers

Benjamin Hernandez

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Avenego and Emma Hernandez do not speak a word of English. However, thanks to interpreters, this has never prevented them from getting first-class medical care for their son, Benjamin, 4, right here in Dayton, Ohio.

When Emma Hernandez was five months pregnant, her ultrasound revealed that something would be wrong with her newborn baby. Benjamin was born in September, 2007 and was diagnosed with having too much water on his brain. He was given only one year to live.

Four years later, Benjamin is still alive but lives every day with multiple health issues. He has had two surgeries on his eyes and has to continually have his sodium levels checked because they tend to be low. Confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak, Benjamin has to rely on his parents and siblings to help him with everything.

Throughout his life Benjamin has seen multiple specialists and departments at Dayton Children’s. Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, Benjamin’s parents need to have an interpreter present at each appointment to help them communicate with Benjamin’s care team.  

“Our experience at Dayton Children’s has been very good,” says Emma Hernandez. “Even though we can’t communicate, we are able to with the interpreter. Everyone has treated us and Benjamin very well!”

Fern Leland has been translating for the Hernandez family since Benjamin was 9 months old.  While she isn’t the only translator that the family uses, she does work with them frequently. When the family sees Leland, their face lights up because they know she is someone whom they can trust.

Leland is originally from Venezuela and has been speaking Spanish and English her whole life. In 2006 Leland joined Vocalink, an organization in Dayton, Ohio that provides translation services for the medical and legal fields.  Vocalink employs about 150 interpreters and provides its services 24/7.

“We generally contact Vocalink over 300 times a year for language services,” says Stephanie Lewis, patient relations manager at Dayton Children’s. “Spanish is our top requested language; however, we have used Vocalink for 12 different languages including Russian, Arabic and American Sign Language.”

For Benjamin’s family, Dayton Children’s also helps to provide language services outside of the hospital during his home care visits. Once a month a nurse visits Benjamin to check on him and is accompanied by an interpreter.

“As an interpreter, you definitely form relationships with the patients and families,” says Leland. “However, you have to be able to stand back and be professional. Sometimes you do have to deliver bad news to families and you have to be able to do this impartially.”

Leland also forms relationships with physicians here at Dayton Children’s. The more a physician works with her or another interpreter, the more comfortable they become with the process.

“It is great when a doctor can learn to still talk directly to the patient or the parents and then just have me translate instead of them talking directly to me,” says Leland. “This helps with the doctor/patient relationship and with their ability to feel that they understand the treatment plan.”

Thanks to Leland and other interpreters, the Hernandez’s have never had to worry about understanding how to take care of Benjamin. This allows them to give him the treatment he needs and also provide the best quality of life possible for him.

“What has struck me most about this family is how loving the family is towards Benjamin and how they treat him like he doesn’t have any disabilities,” says Leland. “They involve him in everything and expose him to as much as they can. They really adore this child.”

More information on Dayton Children's language services.


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