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Heart of the matter

Employee thankful for saved sick leave

Letter carrier stands near postal vehicle.
Ruben Hernandez, a Fresno, CA, letter carrier, used accumulated sick leave while recovering from a heart attack this year.

Ruben Hernandez was having a typical day a few months ago when he began to experience chest pains. The Fresno, CA, letter carrier figured he was having an asthma attack, something he had experienced before.

“I thought it was respiratory,” Hernandez recalled.

When his condition didn’t improve after a few days, he went to a hospital, where he received the surprise of a lifetime.

“The doctor said, ‘You had a heart attack.’ Heart attack? It was out of nowhere,” Hernandez said.

Doctors attempted to use a stent to improve Hernandez’s blood flow, until they discovered two of his arties were blocked. This meant he required open-heart surgery — a procedure that left him hospitalized for 11 days.

Hernandez’s hospitalization broke a remarkable streak: Until then, he hadn’t taken a single sick day since joining the Postal Service in December 1987.

With recovery expected to take three months, Hernandez is thankful he has thousands of hours of banked sick leave.

USPS strives to educate employees about the benefits of saving sick leave. By saving and accumulating leave, employees will know it’s there for them when they really need it.

“Don’t abuse your sick leave. Save it because things can come back and bite you,” Hernandez said.

He encourages his co-workers to take nothing for granted.

“I never thought this could happen to me. I’m in shape. I’m not overweight. I expected to retire with 40 years and a perfect attendance record,” he said. “But you never know.”

Fresno Postmaster Doug Smith said he’s glad Hernandez is back on the job.

“[Reuben] always has a positive attitude and is really a joy to be around. He really portrays what we are always looking for — an employee who shows up every day,” he said.

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