man playing guitar with granddaughter

A father's grief gives way to purpose and hope

June 14, 2022 | UCI Health
James Alvarez finds joy and purpose in life with daughter Adalyn Rose, who survived the car crash that took her pregnant mother's life.
Today, James Alvarez views his daughter, Adalyn Rose, as a gift that emerged from unspeakable tragedy, the death of his wife. Photo by Tameka Jacobs

For James Alvarez, Aug. 11, 2020 was a day of unimaginable horror.

The 35-year-old father-to-be was walking with his pregnant wife, Yesenia, on a pleasant summer evening in their Anaheim neighborhood. They were discussing the upcoming birth of their first child, a daughter they had already named Adalyn Rose Alvarez-Aguilar, who was due the following month.

Suddenly a car jumped the curb and struck Yesenia. The 23-year-old died that day at UCI Medical Center, but doctors saved the baby’s life.

Today, Alvarez, who works for a law firm, views his child as a gift that emerged from unspeakable tragedy.

Now he volunteers with MOMS Orange County, a nonprofit devoted to the health of pregnant women and newborns. He also teaches new dads what he knows best: how to lovingly care for a baby.

Alvarez describes vividly the day that everything changed.

"The sunset that evening was beautiful. We were walking when I saw a car coming straight at us on the sidewalk.

"It happened so fast. We froze. I grabbed her hand. Then I couldn’t feel her hand anymore.

"She was trampled. It was the most traumatic thing I’ve ever experienced. All our dreams, goals and ambitions — they were just gone.

"The ambulance arrived, and I told the paramedics she was 36 weeks pregnant. I said, ‘Please try to save my wife. Please try to save my daughter.’

"A police officer said, ‘If she has any chance of living, UCI Medical Center will be able to help her.’

"They couldn’t save my wife, but they saved our daughter.

"Dr. Rebecca Coleman performed CPR and resuscitated my daughter. It was midnight when I finally saw her; she was covered with all these tubes.

"It broke my heart. She didn’t deserve to come into the world this way. I realized then, hey, I’m going to have to do this on my own.

"Going through the pregnancy, my wife and I were a team. We took the pregnancy very seriously. We wanted to be the best parents possible.

"Adalyn was in the UCI Health neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for three weeks. I was preparing for my wife’s funeral and preparing for my daughter’s survival at the same time. The nurses understood what I was going through and dedicated themselves to keeping me involved. They gave me the confidence to be able to say, ‘Even though my wife isn’t here, I can do this on my own.’

"UCI Health has been a blessing. Adalyn is now such a healthy, normal baby. She has helped me overcome my grief. She reminds me so much of my wife.

"I am so happy to tell my story at MOMS Orange County. I want to help others. I want to show that my wife didn’t die in vain. I have been able to use what I have learned.

"Society sometimes believes parenting is the woman’s job. I want to show the world that fathers have a purpose too. Fathers can fill the same parenting roles. Men can have a beautiful bond with their children.

"I would like to see our organization get the funding it needs to extend these classes. I believe having a brighter future starts with our children."

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