For Alex Camacho, who emigrated to the United States with his family when he was just 11, learning English was a challenge. Years later, this bilingual Mercy employee had a career-changing experience in the emergency department after interpreting for a young Latino patient in a difficult situation. In becoming a lifeline for her, Alex discovered a new direction for himself.
Guest post by Mary Beth Breda, Program Coordinator, Mercy Volunteer Services
Eleven year-old Alex Camacho sat in his classroom in Barcelona, Venezuela, and looked into the face of his teacher as she exclaimed in frustration.
She said, “Alex, I am trying my best to teach you English, but you are not getting it! What are you going to do when you go to America to live when you are struggling with my class?”
Her words plunged his heart into deep waters of doubt in a sea of impossibilities. What was he going to do?
He really wasn’t sure about moving to America. He would miss his many cousins. Family was an integral part of the Venezuelan culture. His grandmother on his mother’s side was the matriarch of the family, birthing 11 children, and his father came from a family of six. They were a typical middle-class family. His mother had her bachelor’s degree in accounting and his father was a metallurgic engineer. Now his father’s job was sending his family to the United States — to Akron, Ohio, a town rich in metals.
Alex would also miss his native country. Located on the northern coast of South America, Venezuela is geographically a land of rich diversity. Venezuela boasts the Andes mountains in the West, the Amazon Basin rainforest in the South, the llanos plains and beaches that line the Caribbean coast, and the Orinoco River Delta to the East. There were still some indigenous people who lived there, but the culture also included Africans and Spanish descendants. To a great degree, the economy has been dependent upon the oil business, as oil reserves run deep in the land.
Alex had heard many wonderful things about America. But right now, it seemed a land far away with many cultural bridges to cross, and he felt inadequate for the journey.
Mercy Gives Alex a Chance
Upon arriving in the United States, Alex enrolled in public school. The Akron Public School system offered an ESL (English Second Language) class for immigrants in place of the regular language arts class. This greatly helped Alex bridge the language barrier of his new home town. Alex says it took two years to understand English and two additional years to speak it fluently.
He was adjusting to his new culture but did miss the close community and simpler way of life in Venezuela. After graduating from high school, he attended Cuyahoga Community College (also known as Tri-C), where he earned his associate degree in Biomedical Equipment Technology. During his Tri-C years, he met Monica, whom he eventually married in 2013.
He fondly says of her, “Without Monica’s support of my goals for our family, nothing would be possible!”
Alex accepted a position in clinical engineering at Mercy Medical Center in the spring of 2010 following a six-month job hunt. He said he is grateful to Mercy as it was the first company to give him a chance. He has fit into the culture of the Mercy family. Since he speaks Spanish fluently, he has become involved with Mercy’s outreach to the local Latino population. He serves on Mercy’s Diversity Committee and the M.I.L.lennials, a group of young leaders in the community who participate in fund raising for charitable organizations. He also has joined the Mercy Runners, a group of approximately 80 employees who enjoy running and staying active. He said he appreciates hearing prayer daily over the main speakers.
Emergency Changes Course of His Career
Although he enjoys his position in Mercy Clinical Engineering and the people he works with, Alex shared an impactful moment in his career at Mercy that has taken him down a new path. It began one day when he responded to a call for an interpreter in Mercy Emergency Department. Upon arriving, he discovered a young Latino woman about to give birth. He could see the helplessness and confusion on her face as she found herself in an emergency situation, and she was struggling to communicate with staff. He began to speak to her in Spanish, and instantly her demeanor changed. His voice came to her like a lifeline thrown to a capsized sea traveler about to be pulled into the boat.
That powerful moment of connection led Alex to ask himself the question, “Am I making the best use of my gifts?” He began to envision the benefits of knowing Spanish fluently in a closer patient contact position. It wasn’t long afterwards that Alex found himself sitting in the admissions office of Stark State College to enroll in its nursing program.
He said, “I really enjoy what I do in clinical engineering, but machines don’t speak English or Spanish!”
Mission Trip to Dominican Republic Confirms Calling
Alex’s passion for the Mercy mission became even more evident when he volunteered to participate in Mercy’s most recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Alex is grateful to his mother, Biamnela, and his coworkers, who helped to sponsor him for the trip, as they, too, could not help but see his passion to help others and the benefit of his speaking both English and Spanish fluently.
He said the health care offered to the people there was life transforming. Patients came to the clinic with a variety of conditions, including cleft palates. Alex shared that Mercy’s mission team delivered compassionate care, building bridges of hope for patients who now had a chance of living life without this and other disfiguring conditions.
Alex said, “It was an honor to be a part of this mission work. The patients were so appreciative!”
He said that being able to communicate with the patients in their own language enhanced the quality of the experience for him and the patients. It also reaffirmed his belief that he is pursuing the right path. He hopes to return and encourages others to consider a medical missions trip.
Alex has come a long way from the boy who struggled with learning the English language in Venezuela. His humble desire to touch the lives of others is inspirational to us all.
Elaine Campbell, director of Mercy Development Foundation, says of Alex, “I first met Alex Camacho as a member of Mercy’s Diversity Committee. My initial observation about this energetic young man was that he was engaged and dedicated to improving the hospital where he works. I was in awe of his desire to learn and take courses to improve himself and his career. As I got to know the person, I found a very caring, warm human being that has a strong desire to make the world he lives in a better place. Recently, he shared his experience as a member of the MIMO mission trip. His “giving heart” and desire to help others were so evident. Mercy is blessed to have such a dedicated employee.”
Certainly Alex’s story speaks to the truth that sometimes our greatest obstacles can become our greatest opportunities if we possess a heart of passion and dare to dream without borders!