Enrique A. Ulibarri, a. k. a. Henry or Hank, has always been his family and community’s example of patriotism. It wasn’t injuries related to the time he served as a Marine in the Korean Conflict that brought Hank’s Heroes to the Fisher House: it was Cancer.
When Henry was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer in early 2006, his wife, and 5 adult children lived in Northern New Mexico. When physicians broke the news to his family, they were told that treatment for the type of cancer he had was not necessarily an option. As far as the stage at which he was diagnosed, survivability was not necessarily expected. This did not sit well with Hank and his Heroes. As doctors advised the family to concern themselves with Henry’s very short life expectancy, with a phone, tablet, and pencil in hand, as well as a recommendation from La Clinica del Pueblo’s PA at the time, a hunt for clinical research began!
With no formal referral (his family did not realize he needed one) an appointment was made in Denver, CO at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. When Henry showed up at the front desk ready to register for his appointment, they informed him he could not be seen without a referral. Leaving the hospital defeated, his family spent the day calling doctors back in NM to try and get the right paperwork over to Anschutz. As miracles would have it, they were successful, Henry made his appointment, and arrangements were made to stay over-night in Denver. In fact, Henry, his wife, his daughters, and his son were not only seen that day at Anshutz, but just about every day for over two years. At first, they would go and spend the week, and come home to NM on weekends. The Cancer Society would give the family coupons to stay at hotels at discounted rates during the week with him as he went to his treatments. After some time, it became evident that as the treatments took a toll on his health, the family could not safely move him between TA and Denver on weekends anymore. Denver is over a 6-hour drive that takes you through two dangerous mountainous passes through the Rocky Mountains where elk, deer, and other animals cross the highway in plentiful amounts. As miracles continued to happen, and the daughters and his son became “regulars” at the Cancer Society counter, once they found out Henry was a Marine, the family was referred to the Fisher House. Alleluia!
Finally, after several months of checking in and out of hotels, buying food at restaurants or living out of vending machines, and spending hours of time watching happy families on vacations and people on business trips going about their business at the hotels they were staying in (time does not stop for Cancer), Hank and his Heroes moved into the Fisher House.
What had been a routine of checking in and out hotels with Henry in tow barely surviving the ravage of chemotherapy and radiation, turned into arriving at the Fisher House, a key under the mat, refrigerators and pantries full of food made available by donors, and a full kitchen and eating area where Henry’s Heroes (the family rotated members at this point) could sit for a family meal amongst other hospital patients surviving their battle. Hank and his Heroes had many stays at Fisher House, as one year turned into two. It was a saving grace for this Northern New Mexico family. The angels who walked among those hallways will never be forgotten.