Jessica Fernandez — the reigning Miss Palm Beach County — uses beauty pageants as a platform to talk about brain aneurysms like the one that nearly killed her teenage sister on a family vacation.
Miraculously, older sister Natalie survived the ruptured blood vessel with no neurological effects, but she spent three months in a coma, and the family never returned from Orlando to their native Puerto Rico. Jessica recognizes it as “a blessing in disguise” that the medical catastrophe happened while they were vacationing: her sister never would have gotten the care that she needed on the island, she said.
“You would look at her, and it was like it never happened,” Fernandez said of her sister, who is now 26. “One of my missions is to share her story.”
She uses the story and the stage to draw attention to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, which educates people about signs, symptoms and risk factors for the condition.
Fernandez was crowned Miss Palm Beach County on Jan. 19 during the South Florida Fair. She will return to PBA as a sports broadcasting major in the fall. But first, she will compete for the Miss Florida crown in Lakeland on June 29. Fernandez is one of 35 women in the running. The winner will represent Florida in the Miss America pageant.
Fernandez said she was discouraged in her search for a college until she learned about PBA and “absolutely loved it from the very beginning.” The little touches, such as her name on a parking spot when she visited, made all the difference, along with generous scholarships, she said. Fernandez also uses her pageant prize money to help pay her way through school.
She has taken musical theatre classes, and one of her professors encouraged her to compete in pageants.
“I ended up loving it, the whole pageantry and being able to be a role model,” she said.
She leans on her musical training in the talent portion of the contests, where she usually sings Broadway ballads. “Somewhere (There’s a Place for Us)” from “West Side Story” holds special meaning for her as one of two Hispanic young women competing for the Miss Florida title.
If Fernandez wins the statewide contest, she will join the company of Sierra Minott Jones ’10, a psychology major and musical theatre minor who was crowned Miss Florida in 2008.
Photo: Jessica Fernandez was crowned Miss Palm Beach County on Jan. 19. She will compete for the Miss Florida title on June 29 in Lakeland. If she wins, she will represent Florida at the Miss America pageant.