By Vincent T. Davis
His wife worried for his safety. A co-worker said he was crazy to do it.
But Pablo Pedraza was undeterred. A toddler needed her medicine, never mind the bad weather and ice-slicked highways.
On Wednesday, the professional driver embarked on a route different from the one he usually takes in Houston for his part-time job. This route was from Houston to San Antonio — and he drove it at considerable risk.
Pedraza, 40, works for Atlas Delivery Service, which contracts with the Texas Children’s Hospital specialty pharmacy in Houston.
Each month, the pharmacy ships anti-rejection medicine via UPS to Alexis Padilla-Villegas and her husband, Reynaldo, for their 18-month-old daughter, Evangelina, in San Antonio.
The girl needs the medicine because she received a heart transplant at Texas Children’s after she was diagnosed with a rare condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS).
Because of the severe weather conditions, however, UPS drivers had been sidelined for days and the toddler’s supply of medicine was down to one dose.
A backup option — to deliver by helicopter — was out of the question because of the harsh weather.
A pharmacy clerk called Padilla-Villegas and assured her the hospital would find a way to get the medicine to her.
Pedraza set out two hours later on the 197-mile journey. As he made his way to San Antonio on Interstate 10, he passed a wrecked 18-wheeler and saw car after car abandoned on the side of the road. There were lots of red-and-blue flashing lights as emergency vehicles responded to numerous accidents.
The sky grew darker and cloudier as the trip wore on. Pedraza thought of the TV news footage he had watched with his wife, Leticia, showing a fatal pileup in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Pedraza kept to a safe speed on the slick roads — he simply had to get the medicine to San Antonio.
The Villegas family was staying at a Drury Inn and Suites, where Reynaldo Villegas, 39, works. The hotel had reserved a suite for Villegas, his wife and three daughters when the power went out at their home earlier in the week.
Through all the disruption, Padilla-Villegas said Evangelina remained happy and smiling.
“It’s like she knows she had a second chance at life,” said Padilla-Villegas, 34.
Pedraza reached San Antonio around 8 p.m. Wednesday. He tied on a blue mask and walked into the hotel lobby with the box of medicine. Several employees, clustered around the front desk, acted as if they knew why he was there. A clerk asked him to wait; Reynaldo Villegas wanted to thank him personally.
“We were very humbled,” the father said in an interview. “Had he not done this, she wouldn’t have gotten her medicine.”
The family offered Pedraza a room for the night, but he declined. He wanted to get back home.
When Villegas offered a tip for his service, Pedraza wouldn’t accept that either. The grateful dad slipped some cash into a pocket of Pedraza’s jacket, but the driver politely gave the money back.
“I can’t take this,” Pedraza said. “I’m just doing my job.”
During their 15-minute conversation, Villegas took out his cell phone and swiped the screen to a Facebook page.
“This is my daughter, this is who you are helping out,” he said as he showed Pedraza a page called “Evangelina’s HLHS Journey.”
Pedraza was moved by the family’s gratitude. He rarely meets clients or knows their conditions. He understood the parents’ love for their daughter; he has a daughter of his own, 11-year-old Yvette.
“In the grand scheme of things, it makes you think, ‘But for the grace of God,’” Pedraza recalled. “It puts everything in perspective.”
Keenly aware of the freezing temperatures and possible ice on I-10, he said goodbye and set out on the return trip to Houston.
The family had one request: that Pedraza let them know when he had arrived home safely. At 11 p.m., they received his text.
Pedraza is now a part of Evangelina’s journey. Before he left, Villegas had a co-worker take a picture of the girl and the driver side by side, with Pedraza holding the box of lifesaving medicine. The photo is now on the family’s Facebook page, among other images of the toddler.
Her parents call Evangelina their fearless warrior. They call Pedraza “a lifesaver.”
“Literally,” Padilla-Villegas said. “It was a huge blessing.”