Edison teacher honored as ‘hidden hero’


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Staff Writer

EDISON — Michael Joseph Fernandez, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than a decade ago, was told by doctors he would ultimately be wheelchair bound.

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“That made me enraged,” he said as he recalled his reaction. “I was 25 years old and it sounded like no hope.”

Fernandez is an Edison High School graduate. He said prior to his diagnosis, he had turned his life around from being overweight with high blood pressure to a life of eating healthy and physical activity.

He said he realized his passion to become a physical education teacher and transferred from Stockton University in Galloway Township, Atlantic County, to Kean University in Union.

“Everything was getting under control,” he said. “I was finishing up by physical education degree.”

Then one day — February 6, 2006 — he said he woke up with double vision. He went to the hospital and did not get any answers at first.

A battery of tests including an MRI and spinal tap were done and then the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) came.

MS is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and between the brain and body, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

“It happened so quickly,” he said. “I was sitting there with my mom and everything that was said was so negative.”

For seven years, Fernandez said he followed what needed to be done by doctors, which included a “miserable” needle injection every week.

“I would do the injection on a Monday so it wouldn’t affect my weekends,” he said. “But it would eventually cause problems on my Sunday with the anxiety of it.”

Then about four years ago with the support of his girlfriend Kristi Drude and his family, he moved toward another option — a change in his diet and exercise lifestyle — eventually moving off the medication.

Fernandez said he has been symptom free and doctor visits have been going well.

“I did research and examined the risks,” he said noting he saw fewer risks in moving toward the lifestyle he is living now. “It’s a choice for everyone to make on their own.”

Fernandez said he practices what he preaches in everything that he does. He has worked hard to make sure he is living a happy and healthy lifestyle that will help him fight MS and the prognosis.

Due to his positive energy and inspirational story, Fernandez has been recognized by the National MS Society and he has also been an award winning physical education teacher at James Monroe Elementary School in Edison for 13 years.

In April, Fernandez received a “I am Edison, Hidden Hero” award from the Edison Township School District, which highlighted his story.

He loves working with children and guiding them to lead a healthy lifestyle. The parents of his students constantly praise Fernandez for his positive impact on them.

This is what led him to start writing his Nando the Healthy Hero series children’s books in 2012, which promote healthy eating habits, quality family time and using one’s imagination.

He has two cookbooks also inspired by his own healthy lifestyle and his ability to overcome MS over the past 10 years. He also relays his healthy message in interactive presentations across the state whenever possible.

Fernandez and Drude, also an elementary school teacher in Edison, have traveled to other school districts talking about their books and role playing with the students to get their message of the importance of healthy eating and exercise.

On May 22, Fernandez and Drude will make a presentation based on their most recent book “Eat Healthy to Live Well: How a Plant-Based Diet Turned a Tragedy into a Triumph” for the Vegetarian Society of South Jersey at the Woodbury Public Library.

Fernandez said another book is also in the works focused on walking.

For more information visit www.Nandothehealthyhero.com.

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