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Lifeline Stories

Honor roll of donorsCommunity Response in COVID-19

We are honored to shine a light on our friends in the community who have contributed so generously in support of the University Health mission throughout this COVID-19 pandemic. The generosity of our community has brought encouragement to our staff and provided lifelines of hope and healing to our patients. Your donation of any amount helps in the fight against COVID-19 and helps to lessen the burden on our patients and their families during these times.

See Real Life Proof of Your Impact

Compassionate care is at the heart of what we do. We are a premier academic medical center in partnership with the UT Health San Antonio, powered by the best and brightest physicians, nurses and healthcare professionals in the nation. These personal stories are examples of the University Health difference and the reason our donors choose to provide support through the University Health Foundation.

Your gift:

  • Supports programs that bring comfort to patients and ease the burden of critical care for patients and their families
  • Invests in health and wellness outreach for our community and educational opportunities
  • Assures our community has access to the most advanced diagnostic tools and treatment options. 


Traci & Ava Lopez – Grateful Family Gives Back

Lifeline Traci Ava

On April 23, 2009, 18-month-old Ava, her 3-year-old sister Isabella, and their mother Traci were struck down by an intoxicated driver while in the front yard of their home. Ava was airlifted to University Hospital, the only Pediatric Trauma Center in San Antonio, with a life-threatening head injury. University Health’s Level 1 Trauma Center was prepared to take on this young patient, a task that required training and coordination from the entire trauma team of doctors, nurses and staff members. Their quick action and preparation saved her life. Ava is now a lively and active preteen and her grateful family takes the time each year to raise funds for other trauma patients. She is a lifeline of hope and healing.

Rosemary Kowalski – Inspiration to World-Class Research

Lifeline Rosemary Kowalski

Rosemary Kowalski is known in the community for her gracious personality, as well as the delicious food from her catering business, The RK Group. She is also a diabetes survivor. Rosemary was diagnosed with diabetes more than 50 years ago and is living proof that this does not have to be a life-limiting disease. Thanks to the world-class care received at University Health’s Texas Diabetes Institute, she has been able to thrive, growing her family and businesses along the way. She shares her story as a diabetes survivor with enthusiasm so that others will find hope. As a community leader and philanthropist, Rosemary has dedicated her life to ensuring that generations to come have a bright, productive future. She is a lifeline of inspiration for others.

Buckle UP! Car Safety Program

Lifeline Buckle Up

“I did not realize the importance of using a car seat,” says Alondra, a mother of three who completed the Buckle UP! Program. Thanks to the philanthropic support from individuals, organizations, and corporations, like Charity Ball Association, Rotary Club of San Antonio, Toyota, and USAA, this program helps families ensure their children’s safety while traveling in a motor vehicle.

Amber Zepeda – Premie

Amber Zepeda

Little Amber was born at only 24 weeks weighing just over one pound. Not long ago, extremely premature babies like Amber did not have great odds of survival. They have a host of medical problems when their normal development in the womb is cut that short. Amber’s heart, lungs, brain, eyes, liver and intestines all required complex treatment and multiple surgeries by a number of pediatric subspecialists, but after 5 months and four days in the Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at University Hospital, and lots of hope, prayer and the best medical care available, Amber went home with her family.

Dr. Ronald Stewart – Stroke Survivor

Dr. Stewart

As a trauma surgeon, Dr. Ronald Stewart never expected to be leading a community-wide effort to build a stroke system. But in 2008, that’s exactly what happened since San Antonio was the only major city in Texas without a stroke center. As chair of STRAC, the region’s advisory council on emergency care, he found himself partnered with community advocate Suzanne Hildebrand to make the case - this community deserved best-in-class stroke care. At one point Dr. Stewart told a room full of doctors and hospital leaders “You know what? I have atrial fibrillation. I could have a stroke and need you guys someday.” In 2011, he did. Dr. Stewart was integral in building the lifeline to life-saving stroke care that he himself benefited from years later.

Tammy Miranda & Miranda Bennett – Living Donor Liver Transplant Recipient & Donor

2016 medical miracles Tammy Miranda

"It was very easy to make the decision, because it was the right thing to do. That doesn't mean it wasn't the scariest thing in the world." That's how 26-year-old Miranda Bennett reflects on her decision to donate a portion of her healthy liver to save her dying mother. Her mom Tammy Miranda, who was first diagnosed with an autoimmune liver disease in 1996, didn't want her daughter, or anyone, to be a living donor. "All those years, I said 'no.' I never wanted to risk someone else's life." But in 2014, her disease had progressed to the point where the increased toxins in her blood were causing serious problems, including a loss of brain function.

Gilbert Hernandez, III – Pulmonary Valve Replacement Survivor

Gilbert Hernandez III

Gilbert had no idea he was making history 22 years ago. He was just 2 days old when Dr. John Calhoon repaired his heart. It was a complicated procedure that had never been performed on such tiny baby. "I'm not sure everybody believes it's the right thing to do," was how Dr. Calhoon described the decision. It was March of 1993, and Dr. Calhoon, serving then as Chief of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery at the UT Health San Antonio, didn't have a better alternative. "They only gave us a 50-50 chance," recalls Gilbert's mother, Maria Hernandez. But they really didn't have a choice. "Take him home and he'll die in a day or two." His father, Gilbert Hernandez II can still hear those words.

That was then. Now, Gilbert is 22 years old, attending college and interested in broadcasting. He stands as a testament to the innovation and life-saving care that University Health brings to the community.

Jonathan Esquivel – Car Crash Survivor

Jonathan Esquivel

Two years ago, San Antonio Police Officer Jonathan Esquivel was seriously considering running a marathon. When he wasn't on the streets protecting our community or at home with his wife and two young sons, chances are you could find him at the gym or out for a run.

He was 28, and in the best shape of his life. Unfortunately, his best was no match for a pick-up truck traveling 50 miles per hour. Officer Esquivel was struck by a distracted driver while working a collision on Loop 410. The impact broke his neck, shattered his pelvis, crushed his ankle, damaged his brain and ruptured his bladder. The endurance marathon he started that day was a challenge to survive, to remember, and to move.

This slew of injuries and complications would keep him at University Hospital for two months and require 10 procedures. The surgeon used more plates and screws than he’d ever used in a surgery before and the surgical ICS staff was beyond extraordinary, keeping Jonathan infection-free. His long journey of rehabilitation included relearning how to stand, walk, talk and even send an email. But he is back on his feet and defying all odds today.

Leana Mendoza – Car Crash Survivor


Six-year old Leana and her family were headed to the circus when a car jumped the curb and plowed head-on into their vehicle. Leana’s injuries weren’t as obvious as her parents so they went undetected for two days. But when her fever hit 105 and her stomach began to swell, Leana’s mom knew something was really wrong. More tests revealed severe internal damage. Within minutes, AirLIFE was flying Leana from Laredo to University Hospital, where the Pediatric Trauma Team was preparing to rush her into surgery— a very complicated surgery. She would have ten more operations in the next two weeks involving complex anesthesiology and critical care team and was kept in a medically induced coma. Thanks to the University Hospital in-house trauma team, Leana is now living life happily ever after.

Valeria Garcia – Liver Tumor Survivor

Valeria Garcia

After discovering a five-pound tumor in her ovary, 13-year old Valerie found her way on a harrowing journey that would take her to a number of hospitals, seeing a slew of doctors, and enduring a number of surgeries. After reoccurring tumors, one was eventually found in her liver. This one grew so large that it was going into her chest and heart. It was the size of a watermelon and was aggressive. It was so invasive, the scheduled surgeon backed out. That’s when Valerie’s family found Dr. Almeda and University Hospital. With the help of exceptional nurses and staff, the surgery was a success. This is a shining example of how the expertise and state-of-the-art facilities at University Health save lives. Valerie went on to be in the top 10% of her graduating class and has a bright future. Now that is a lifeline success!

Abby Jack – Brain Injury Survivor

AbbyJack - Brain Injury SurvivorTwo-year-old Abby suffered a serious brain injury when she was just six months old. It was April 17, 2009 and tiny Abby Jack was buckled in her car seat and on her way to Grandma's house. Her mom, Rachel, was having severe migraines, so Grandma was going to watch Abby while she went to see a doctor.

The last thing Rachel remembers was being stopped at a traffic light. She learned later that a seizure, related to those migraines, had caused her foot to hit the gas and sent her car straight into a large tree. Abby's head injury was life-threatening, and the prognosis was not good. Rachel, who suffered serious injuries herself, and Abby's father Darrell were in shock as Abby was rushed to surgery. She spent the next three weeks in a medically-induced coma in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at University Hospital.

Abby’s recovery was difficult, and something an innocent baby should never have to endure. Yet she did, with remarkable strength for one so tiny. The opportunity to see Abby smile, as they counted the candles on her second birthday cake, knowing there would be many happy birthdays to come, was the best gift ever for her parents - who count their blessings everyday.

Kevin King – Pulmonary Fibrosis Survivor

Kevin King

In the spring of 2008, Kevin King was rapidly losing his battle with pulmonary fibrosis and was completely reliant on a portable oxygen tank. Today, Kevin is alive and breathing easier because a generous family allowed their deceased loved one to donate a lung to a complete stranger. Kevin’s story is also a testament to a team of transplant professionals who saw him through the complicated operation and the terrifying touch-and-go days that followed.

Nicholas Velasquez – Car Crash Survivor

Nicholas Vasquez

Nicholas was only 6 years old when he suffered massive injuries in a head-on vehicle collision. Of course, he was rushed to University Hospital – the only Level I trauma center in South Texas that cares for critically injured children with the worst possible circumstances imaginable. Life-threatening internal injuries as well as brain complications made it a minute-by-minute struggle. Nicholas was truly a medical miracle guided by the doctors and nurses at University Hospital and 5 months after his horrific accident returned home for months of rehabilitation. Today he is walking — and running—with his friends and classmates.

Larry Price – Cancer Survivor

Larry Price - Cancer Survivor

The 2008 Medical Miracles honoree was San Antonio Police Officer Larry Price. His journey back to health, after having most of his esophagus surgically removed, is inspiring. His message, to the thousands of San Antonians who may be putting themselves at risk for a fast growing and deadly cancer, is powerful and important.

We were especially thrilled to recognize Officer Price, not only for his personal victory and willingness to share his experience with others, but because of the high esteem in which we hold the entire San Antonio Police Department. University Hospital is often the place where officers are brought after being injured in the line of duty. While our dedicated emergency medical and surgical trauma teams strive to provide excellent care to every patient, it is accurate to say they are truly honored to provide service to our police officers and their families during these difficult times.

Jane Swanson – Shooting Survivor

Jane Swanson  Shooting Survivor

On July 23, 2003, Jane Swanson was critically injured in a tragic workplace shooting that left two other women dead. Clinging to life, Jane was flown to the trauma center at University Hospital. She remained in critical condition in the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit for a month, then spent another month in the Reeves Rehabilitation Center at University Hospital. Some of her first words, weeks into her recovery, were expressions of thanks and appreciation to all who saved her life - from the first responders at the scene, to the AirLIFE crew and University Hospital's surgical trauma team. When Jane left the hospital two months after the shooting, she promised to educate the community about the importance of supporting University Hospital's Level I trauma program. She continues to live up to that promise by sharing her inspiring story with many organizations and church congregations. On our behalf, Jane traveled to Austin during the last legislative session to address lawmakers about trauma funding.

Drew Rice – Ewing's Sarcoma Survivor

Drew Rice - Ewing's Sarcoma Survivor

In 2004, after a minor injury on a trampoline, 6-year old Drew Rice was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a very rare form of bone cancer. Drew's difficult battle began with chemotherapy the following month. He lost 10 pounds and was down to just 39 pounds when it was time for the next step - surgery. The Rice family met with Dr. Ronald Williams in the Department of Orthopedics at The UT Health Science Center at San Antonio— one of the most respected orthopedic oncologists in the nation, and the only one in all of South and Central Texas. This was when they realized they were looking at amputation. The road was long but Drew has far surpassed the goals his doctors and therapists set. He would often go back to visit the pediatric unit and inspire other children facing difficult medical issues. And, he even became the pitcher of his Little League baseball team!



ValeroAs a community-minded company, Valero demonstrates its commitment by supporting organizations that improve the quality of life for all. By supporting University Health Foundation, Valero knows that everyone, regardless of their socio-economic status, will receive the quality health care they deserve. Valero is proud to help build a lifeline for those in the community to this dependable medical resource for daily or long-term healthcare needs. Building lifelines means building connections to lifesaving treatments, becoming a savior in times of greatest need and providing a source of life giving and healing.

San Antonio’s Health System & Yours Too

From complex treatment for trauma to routine primary care, thousands of people find their lifeline to compassionate and extraordinary care at University Health. It’s where they know they’ll find the area’s most innovative and advanced medicine.

When you make a donation, you are helping improve the lives of the patients we care for and make our community stronger and healthier.