Exceptional Graduates: Despair Replaced by Hope for High Schooler Severely Hurt in East Harlem Explosion

His life was shattered when he was nearly killed in the East Harlem explosion, but now 18-year-old Oscar Hernandez is graduating from high school, preparing for college and thinking about his future. NY1's Michael Scotto has the first installment in our series about exceptional graduates:

Oscar Hernandez walked to his East Harlem high school for one of the last times.

In many ways, it's a miracle he's walking, let alone graduating. A little more than two years ago, the East Harlem gas explosion leveled his apartment house, killing his mother and older sister.

Oscar was found unconscious in the rubble with several broken bones, internal bleeding and burns over half his body. Doctors placed him in a coma for 11 days to assist his recovery.

"I don't like to talk about it," Oscar says softly.

Understandably, the teen has a hard time reliving that day. Talking about his mom makes him emotional.

"She knew exactly what to do. And she just took very good care of me," he says.

Oscar is referring to a rare skin condition, which causes painful blisters and made his recovery that much harder.

An honors student, Oscar even considered dropping out. The pain, physical and emotional, was just so overwhelming.

"My mind was blurred, and I couldn't focus on school or anything," Oscar recalls.

But his father and supportive teachers convinced him to persevere. Oscar decided not to leave the Coalition School for Social Change.

His guidance counselor Lori Friedman tears up when thinking about how much he has overcome.

"In my 23 years as a counselor ... I've never been so proud of any of my students in my career," Friedman says.

Oscar's teachers and his father encouraged him to write and draw, believing that would help him come to terms with his feelings.  

He recently read one of his poems at the New York Public Library. It is called "Fire."

"Fire, the fierce, frightening force of nature. But in reality, what is it? Is it a feeling, the one you get when you get up and speak, the one you get when you're passionate about something?" Oscar said.

Oscar plans to attend LaGuardia Community College in the fall. He dreams of becoming a dermatologist one day.

The despair has faded, replaced by hope.

"I want to go to college," he says, "and see what the future has for me."

Charter Spectrum customers get full access
to all our video, including our live stream.

Tune to Spectrum New NY1 on TV, online, online, or on Local On Demand Channel 1020 for:

Road to City Hall, Mon.-Fri. at 7pm and 10pm
In Focus with Cheryl Wills, Sun. at 10:30am & 3:30pm
• On Stage, Sat.-Sun. 9:30am & 7:30pm + Tues. 12:30am
Sports on 1, nightly at 11:35pm and 4am