Written by Nancy Sokoler Steiner | Photographed by Vincent Rios
Paying It Forward
Antony Alvarado has seen hospitals from the viewpoint of a patient as well
as a volunteer. At the age of 9 he underwent surgery to remove a life-threatening
brain tumor. Had his surgery been postponed by mere hours, the pressure
on his brain would have caused brain death.
“When I woke up, I knew I wanted to become a neurosurgeon,”
says Alvarado, now a freshman at the University of Rochester in New York.
“I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to grow up,
and I wanted to give that gift to other children in similar situations.”
As a high school student, Alvarado volunteered at Torrance Memorial Medical
Center on Saturdays, helping at the information desk, transporting patients,
delivering flowers and helping with other patient-related errands. He
would ride to and from the medical center with his mother, Zoila, who
works Saturdays as a per-diem unit secretary. Although he was only required
to work a four-hour shift, he’d often stay longer to help out.
“Instead of people focusing on me and my medical situation, I got
to focus on other people,” he says. “And working in the hospital
as a volunteer showed me that I enjoyed caring for people in a hospital
Alvarado experienced a cancer recurrence in his junior year of high school
and underwent chemotherapy. Tumors still remain in his body, but fortunately
they have remained stable.
In the summer before his senior year, Alvarado participated in a research
internship at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He worked at a lab
that was developing a treatment for a different type of brain cancer.
Meanwhile he was receiving chemotherapy infusions on the weekends.
“I was fighting cancer double time—in the lab and in my body,” he says.
Now in college, Alvarado has remained true to his intentions as a youngster.
He is majoring in biochemistry and is on a pre-med track.
“I like it, but it’s really tough,” he says about his
studies. But he’s up for the challenge and has earned good grades
for his first semester.
His philosophy and advice to others: “No matter the obstacles life
entails, face them with a smile and recognize that all past experiences
have prepared you for a better tomorrow.”
Downey Police officer Ed Hano’s partner has four legs and a tail.
Hano, an 18-year veteran of the force, is a canine handler. He works with
Dutch shepherd Dani, who helps apprehend suspects and sniff out narcotics.
“I spend more time with her than with my family,” he says of
the dog, who lives at the San Gabriel house he shares with his wife, Denise,
and two daughters.
During a training exercise with the unit dogs in July 2017, Hano went too
close to the door of an electrical panel and it exploded right in front
of him. He was rushed to the nearest hospital and quickly transferred
to Torrance Memorial’s Burn, Wound and Amputation Prevention Center.
The center is one of only three American Burn Association-certified Burn
Centers in Los Angeles County.
Hano suffered burns on 25 percent of his body, including his chest, both
arms and both hands. He was unconscious for the first two weeks of his
month-long hospitalization. He underwent two skin graft surgeries and
has since had six laser surgeries to reduce scarring and resurface his skin.
“They treated me very well,” he says of his stay at the Burn
Center. “Everybody was respectful and understanding. Anything I
needed, they were happy to oblige.”
Hano has since returned to the Burn Center to visit with staff and provide
encouragement to other patients. “I owe them my life,” he says.
In turn, there’s someone who owes her life to Ed Hano. One day in
2015 his daughter ran into the house saying there was a neighbor outside
yelling and holding a limp baby. Hano dashed out to discover that the
baby had fallen into the neighbor’s pool. He was blue and had no pulse.
Hano immediately performed CPR. The baby spit out water and had resumed
breathing by the time the paramedics arrived. He had a full recovery.
Feels Like Home
Torrance Memorial has played a large role in the lives of the Biggins family.
Betsy, 83, worked here for 32 years and retired just six years ago. As
a physician liaison, she ensured smooth coordination between the hospital
and physicians’ medical practices. She also organized the Speakers’
Bureau and for 25 years ran the Miracle of Living health education lecture series.
“It’s a wonderful place to work,” she says. “It
felt like home.”
In fact, she is so attached to Torrance Memorial that she volunteers weekly
as a patient representative. In that role, she visits patients on the
orthopedic floor to see how they’re doing and offer any assistance
they may need.
“I didn’t want to leave Torrance Memorial, but I didn’t
want to be in charge,” she says with a laugh. “I enjoy helping
patients, answering their questions and visiting with them.”
Betsy’s husband, Jerry, had four cancers successfully treated at
Torrance Memorial—parathyroid cancer, melanoma, lung cancer and
bladder cancer. All were caught early.
“He’s been cancer-free for years,” Betsy says. “It’s
kind of a miracle.”
Daughter Jill Gerbracht also works at Torrance Memorial. She started last
year in the marketing department. Daughter Kristin is a teacher and adventurer
who has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Whitney and will hike Mont
Blanc in the Alps this summer. Daughter Liz is an artist and lives in
Santa Barbara. And Betsy’s granddaughter, Jill’s daughter,
just joined Torrance Memorial’s high school volunteer program. Meanwhile,
granddaughter Helen is studying to be a nurse at Loyola University Chicago.
Talk about a family affair.
Betsy is active in the community. She serves on the board of Community’s
Child, which provides homeless women with infant children safe living
environments. She is also on her church’s mission committee. She
has held volunteer leadership positions in other agencies including the
Palos Verdes Coordinating Council, the Palos Verdes Chamber and the Torrance
chapter of the American Heart Association.
She enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren, three of whom were
born at Torrance Memorial. “I feel very blessed,” she says.
“I’m healthy and active and busy. I feel young most of the