'God wanted us to be here': How a family from Puerto Rico made it to Cincinnati after Maria

CINCINNATI -- A son from Puerto Rico had to sneak behind his mother's back to create a new life for them both in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Christopher Javier Negron made a plan for his life in middle school: He would graduate, head to high school and then study industrial electronics -- first at the University of Puerto Rico in Bayamon, next in Mayaguez. 

"And that plan came crashing down," his mother, Jessica Rivera, said. "Just like the electricity poles and the trees."

Hurricane Maria hit during Negron's first week of college. By the time classes resumed, the school still had no water and no electricity. The widespread damage and subsequent exodus of hurricane-affected Puerto Ricans doubled his mother's workload at both of the jobs she'd taken to support her son through college. During the day, she worked as a CT and MRI technician at a hospital; during the night, she drove cabs. 

Negron knew neither of them could continue that way. Neither could the three elderly family members who depended on them.

"So the next day," he said, "I was deciding, 'Should I stop studying and try to help my family? Or just continue studying?'"

If he continued to study in Puerto Rico, what would he be studying for? Jobs that might not exist anymore? Months or years in the dark? If he quit and took a job that did not require a degree, would he be disappointing the family that had encouraged him to chase his dream?

"The third option was to trick my mom in the most awkward way, but I really did it for her," he said.

Negron spent 24 hours looking online for colleges in the United States that would allow him to continue studying industrial electronics. Of the three that looked most appealing, the University of Cincinnati was the quickest to respond to his calls. When he felt confident he had the qualifications to attend UC, he set about making sure his mother had a safe, stable place to land alongside him in the United States.

Using a stolen copy of her updated resume, he applied for a position at the UC Health West Chester Hospital on her behalf. Days later, she got an unexpected call: The hospital wanted her to come for an interview in person.

At first, she was upset. Then, she began to consider it. By November, nearly two full months after Maria first touched down, she was packing her bags to move to Ohio. Within days of her in-person interview, the hospital offered her the job.

It was a whirlwind she might never have stepped into on her own, she admitted. Negron's quick thinking and determination opened a door for his entire family in the wake of a debilitating natural disaster.

"It's odd that he has become so responsible and has taken it upon himself to give us a better quality of life. Normally, it's us parents trying to make (children's) lives easier," she said. "I guess I did something right."

Negron is waiting to hear back from the University of Cincinnati to start school in the fall. Rivera has worked at UC Hospital in West Chester since late 2017.

"God wanted us to be here," Rivera said. "UC somehow adopted us … they took a chance on us, so now we need to work harder so they know we were worth the risk to take in."

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