CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — Home for the holidays is taking on a new meaning for a Bay Area father and Army veteran.

“A miracle was done for me over at Tampa General Hospital,” Hector Fernandez said. “It was amazing and I never felt so good in so many years.”

Doctors told the 49 year old he would not be able to go home until he received a new heart.

About a month after a successful transplant surgery at TGH, Fernandez was able to surprise his children days before Christmas. 

“It was surreal just to be able to see my kids after so long,” Fernandez said. “They all grew while I was gone.”

When 8 On Your Side first spoke with the Army veteran on Veterans Day, he wasn’t sure if or when doctors would find him a new heart.

“You never know when they become available, so they told me to expect maybe as short as two weeks or maybe up to a couple months that I have to wait,” Fernandez said on Nov. 11.

“If we had a date, it would make it easier to know, but just you wake up each morning is today the day the hearts going to come,” his wife Amy Fernandez said at the time.

Seven years after learning he had a congenital heart defect – that became worse in recent months – the TGH doctors found a perfect match the weekend before Thanksgiving.

“I can’t tell you how happy I was when I got the news,” Fernandez said.

Since the surgery, his wife said she is amazed at the progress he is making.

“All the physical therapists and occupational therapists, they’re just absolutely amazed that he’s up and moving and not out of breath,” she said.

Fernandez said he is grateful for the outpouring of support from the Tampa Bay community after 8 On Your Side first shared his story.

“Thank you Justin and everything you guys did over at Channel 8 WFLA for helping us with the fundraiser that we had,” he said. “All together about $22,000 to help us pay for medical bills and Amy’s time off from work that she’s been able to come up and be with me in this time, especially in the time that I’m healing.”

Fernandez said he can’t wait to wake up Saturday morning to open Christmas gifts with his children.