José Joni Argueta Hernandez was a smiling face at the Adega Wine Cellars & Cafe in downtown Silver Spring, a Honduran immigrant who in his three years with the company became a friend to co-workers and a part of the Silver Spring community.
When he was admitted March 13 to Georgetown University Medical Center with headaches and nausea, Adega owner Walter Rhee could not have foreseen Hernandez, 34, passing away just days after his birthday.
On March 31, Hernandez, who was in a coma, was pronounced brain dead. His family gave permission for his organs to be donated, and Hernandez died that day as a result of Cysticercosis, a rare neurological condition caused by parasites in infected meat. Doctors think he ingested the meat years earlier in Honduras.
“Like a lot of immigrants coming from Second- or Third-World countries with poorer backgrounds, he came to this country looking for opportunity, knowing the money they make here, in most cases, goes a lot further back home,” Rhee said.
Since he was admitted to the hospital, Rhee and Hernandez’s co-workers at Adega and the Dirty Martini, Rhee’s Washington, D.C. bar, decided to raise money for his recovery. When Hernandez died, they decided instead to use the funds to help transport his body back to Honduras and to help his family there, which includes his son and two daughters.
The fundraiser, Helping Hands for José, saw an outpouring of support, with 94 donations in a week that totaled $7,185 of the group’s $10,000 goal.
Rhee hired Hernandez and said despite his limited English skills, he became a customer favorite.
Rhee is determined to leave a much larger legacy in his friend’s name.
“He was very much the reason why Adega was a success,” Rhee said. “It's not just the venue; it's the people in the venue. It's the people that are in there, the camaraderie. It's a friendship. It's a family-like atmosphere. José was working there five, six days a week, doing as much as he could. A lot of the frequent diners would see him all the time. They could see how dedicated he was.”