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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Pearland Man Fights Back and Is Named Houston VA Volunteer of the Year

April 19, 2010

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HOUSTON - Volunteering at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) is a big reason why Antonio Fonseca, Jr. is alive today. He is a fighter, coming back strong every time life threw him a knock-out punch.  

Fonseca worked for a company that provided maintenance to local refineries, but was laid off. Resolute, he went to work for his brother’s construction business, but fell off a roof and broke his back in four places. In 2002, he had a massive heart attack that tore a hole in his heart muscle. He had surgery to implant a heart-assist device to give his body time to heal.

After recovering, doctors instructed him to get some exercise and work his arms. At the suggestion of his daughter, a medical administrative assistant at the MEDVAMC, Fonseca began accompanying his daughter to the hospital and volunteering in the Patient Access Center. He distributes and collects financial assessment forms filled out by Veterans, and prepares them for employees to input into the computer.

Fonseca could have stopped volunteering when he fully recovered from his health problems, but he knew he would just sit at home eating and watching television.

“The work at the VA hospital is not hard, but it keeps me busy every day,” said Fonseca. “I like that because I like to work.” He demonstrates that get-up-and-go attitude by volunteering 40 hours each week at the MEDVAMC. Fonseca’s volunteer work allows VA employees to concentrate on other tasks. 

“He loves talking to people and it makes his day being at the DeBakey VA,” said his daughter, Maria Fonseca, an Army Veteran. “He enjoys working with everyone in the section and especially with the Veterans.”

Fonseca takes his responsibility as a MEDVAMC volunteer very seriously. When his daughter accepted a promotion that put her on another shift, Fonseca was excited for her but wanted to know how he was going to get to the VA to volunteer. She suggested he take a day off, but he responded, “I am going to work. They need me and I need to be there!” With that, Maria found alternate transportation for her dad.

“I don’t think about staying home or skipping work. I come here day after day. I like my job, it’s good and demanding,” said Fonseca. “If I don’t do it, then that affects the staff waiting for my results. That ultimately affects the Veterans coming here for care.”

Fonseca may have taken a few punches over the years, but volunteering helped him fight back. “Antonio is an inspiration,” said Bryan J. Dyck, MEDVAMC Voluntary Service Program Manager. “His courage and enthusiasm are contagious. He is committed to his work and is a model volunteer.”

It is because of his intense dedication and spirit that Fonseca was chosen as the MEDVAMC 2009 Volunteer of the Year. The MEDVAMC honors community volunteers like Fonseca during National Volunteer Week, April 18 - 24, 2010.  Fonseca encourages others to find out more about being a VA volunteer by calling the MEDVAMC Voluntary Service Office at (713) 794-7135 or e-mailing vhahouvolunteer@va.gov.

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