Some people are destined for success.
For Dr. Harold Fernandez, vice chairman of cardiothoracic surgery at Bay Shore’s South Shore University Hospital, a career in medicine was anything but guaranteed.
In fact, Dr. Fernandez, who has an undergraduate degree in molecular biology from Princeton and a medical degree from Harvard, is a prime example of how a supportive family and dogged determination can help you beat the odds set against you.
Dr. Fernandez, who is also professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Hofstra/Northwell Zucker School of Medicine and Northwell Health’s system director of surgical heart failure, credits his insatiable hunger for knowledge attained through books with his achievements, and tells his story in his memoir/self-help book, A Boy and a Book: Overcoming Obstacles Through the Magic of Reading.
From Columbia (S.A.) to Princeton
As a 13-year-old boy living with his grandmothers, Harold Fernandez was eager to escape his native Medellín, Columbia, then the epicenter of the drug trade, and join his parents, both undocumented factory workers, at their home in New Jersey.
Finally, his mother arranged for him and his 11-year-old brother to be smuggled in a boat with a chaperone and 10 other immigrants to Miami via the Bahamas.
“It was only supposed to take three days and ended up taking two weeks,” explains Fernandez, because of the bad weather that delayed their Bahamian departure.
After a seven-hour journey filled with tears, fear, and many prayers, the Fernandez brothers arrived in Miami on Oct. 26, 1978 and were soon reunited with their parents.
Starting over in school proved a monumental challenge to the boys, who had to learn English and encountered constant conflicts with other kids, who disdainfully called them “refugees.”
“They would tell us to ‘Go back to your own country.’ They would make fun of our accents,” Dr. Fernandez recalls.
Books gave the young teen solace and would set him on the path to success. An avid reader back in Columbia, Fernandez was soon devouring books in English. Before long, he joined the Boy Scouts and practically memorized the Boy Scout handbook, relishing its useful first aid techniques that piqued his interest in medicine.
As a young boy, Fernandez had frequently observed doctors who made house calls, bringing care and relief to his ailing abuelas.
“I always wanted to do the same thing for other people,” he says.
A Three-Step Path to Success
Often, Fernandez observes, young people feel overwhelmed and helpless.
“They don’t realize that it’s in their hands to change the course of their lives by really focusing on their education and reading whatever books they like,” he says.
In A Boy and a Book, Fernandez explores what changed his life after struggling in his adopted homeland with a new language, new surroundings, and no friends, and shares the keys to his success in three steps.
Step 1: Be prepared.
Before going into a class, read up on the topic. With the Khan Academy and so many other resources, there’s no excuse to not make an effort, he says. “I always felt that if you go to a lecture and you know just a little bit about it, it just makes you learn things so much better.”
Step 2: Physical learning
To prevent zoning out while studying, periodically get up, walk around, and review what you just read. Doing so, he explains, helps you retain information.
Step 3: Share what you learn with someone else.
If you can teach someone else, it means that you truly know it yourself. As a father, Fernandez has shared his abiding love for learning with his daughter, 24, and son, 18.
“I always told my kids that I wanted to give them three gifts: reading, mathematics, and music.”
A Boy and A Book is available electronically and in hard or soft cover on Amazon or Barnes & Noble and through haroldfernandez.com.