Lots of cheers as graduation season begins, and a lot of stories of overcoming obstacles. One man says a near fatal accident is the best thing that ever happened to him. In fact, he said that is the reason he achieved a very special milestone in San Francisco today. NBC Bay Area’s Stephanie Chuang reports with the story.
He was almost killed at 19 in a freak accident at a tire factory–but Andres Anaya describes the event now as the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
“I was literally being crushed to death, suffocated to death. My legs went numb,” said Anaya, describing how hydraulic doors on a machine malfunctioned. “If it wasn’t for that accident, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Now 40 years old, Anaya is referring to his graduation from UCSF’s School of Medicine. Friday afternoon, he and dozens of his classmates gathered at Davies Symphony Hall near San Francisco City Hall for their commencement.
“Doctor Andres Anaya!” came the announcement.
“It caught me off guard for a second,” Anaya recalled, laughing. “I’m like, okay, it’s real.”
It was a tough moment to grasp because of the Fresno native’s journey. Anaya said he grew up learning American Sign Language first because both his parents are deaf. He described college as merely a “pipe dream,” going to work for that tire factory after graduating high school.
After that accident, Anaya said he woke up to the possibilities of life and realized he needed to seize every opportunity, even making his own.
He enrolled in San Jose City College, transferred to Evergreen Valley College, then to San Jose State University, working three jobs to support himself and his dream. After three more years, he enrolled in UCSF’s School of Medicine in 2008. Six years later, he heads into the next chapter of his life as a doctor.
He said it wasn’t just the medical degree that was the accomplishment, but the fact that he defied the odds–learning from his own parents who defied odds of their own, struggling sometimes to connect with others because they are deaf.
“His whole life, he’s been working so hard through a lot of problems to make it to graduation,” said Mary Anaya, his mom, using American Sign Language. “And now, he’s a doctor.”
“Just surprised and overwhelming, I did cry a little bit,” confessed his dad, Chris Anaya, also through ASL. “For my son to graduate from UC San Francisco, one of the top medical schools in the country, he made it there and also graduated, for our family it’s amazing.”
For Andres, the story is about to go full circle: he just accepted residency in an emergency medicine program in his hometown of Fresno.
“I was actually born in that hospital. I’m home,” he said, smiling. “If I did nothing else than what I’m doing here, I would die a happy man.”