New York Post

June 17, 2001 -- AT age 5, Wilfredo Hernandez's daughter stopped learning. Since then, he has spent 38 years feeding, bathing, dressing his mentally retarded daughter - a task that became even harder in 1991 when his wife died.

On Tuesday, a lawyer and some well-educated psychiatric doctors will attempt to snatch the girl from the 65-year-old Brooklyn man who has dedicated his life to her.

They'll tell a Queens judge the girl should remain committed, needs an additional 21 sessions of electroshock therapy and that the father is an unfit guardian because he disagreed with the doctors.

Hernandez, a church deacon, believes his daughter is as cured as can be, and further electroshock is unnecessary and abusive.

"I don't think they have a right to circumvent me, because I'm the father, I'm the one who cared for her all these years, I know her better than they do," said Hernandez.

"The doctor's position is that my opinion is not worth anything in her life," he said in a shaking voice. "The doctor is not the father. The doctor is not the one that suffers."

The stench of electroshock abuse is stagnant over Hillside Hospital, the Queens psychiatric center where Hernandez's daughter, Dina, has spent the past three months.

Court-ordered electroshock treatment has increased 73 percent in New York since 1999 in state-run hospitals, and Hillside, which is policed by Albany, is going along with the program.

Hernandez is a fit guardian. To say otherwise is an insult.

He agreed to have Dina committed to the hospital, and even signed a consent form for electroshock to treat his daughter's anxiety attacks.

She barely slept, paced constantly, and defecated on herself. The medication she was on didn't work anymore.

After 21 zaps, Hernandez found his daughter left zombie-like. She reminded him of the heroin addicts in his Brownsville neighborhood.

Two weeks ago, her Hillside doctor called requesting permission to zap her 21 more times.

Hernandez refused. He told the doctor he wants to take Dina to Puerto Rico and surround her with close relatives, familial therapy that cheers her. "We don't need your permission because she's over 18," the doctor told Hernandez, before threatening to seize the girl.

"I told him she can't decide, it's like talking to a child," Hernandez said. "It's OK," the doctor said. "We'll have to go to court."

Hillside spokeswoman Michelle Pinto said privacy laws prevent her from talking about a patient. She, however, points out the state Office of Mental Health has "strict guidelines" that enable hospitals to zap patients through court action.

That attitude mirrors the action of the state-run Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Long Island, which is holding Adam Szyszko, 25, and fighting a court battle to re-zap him - despite his parents' objections.

The stench convinced two state legislators to introduce two bills last week to rein in the zap-happy doctors, establish laws to better monitor the practice and increase parents' rights.

Hernandez, who worked as a custodian at the Brooklyn Public Library for 27 years, is a simple man who's gearing for a do-or-die fight with the system. Every day he drives to the hospital on the Queens/Long Island border because he believes Dina, her illness, and the struggle to care for her, are a blessing from God.

That's why a lightning pain rips his heart whenever he's about to leave his imprisoned daughter - she bolts to the locked door in her second-floor ward, grabs the doorknob and says:
"Daddy, I want to go home."