ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A family in desperate need to get their daughter to Denver for a crucial surgery started panhandling.
Someone called police because panhandling is against the law, but the responding officer didn't take the couple to jail. Instead, he offered the dad a ride.
The family got the news just before Christmas that their 2-year-old needs vital heart surgery.
With five children and only weeks notice to come up with enough money to pay for the trip, one parent was in jeopardy of having to stay home.
That is when they say they got help from an "angel wearing police clothes."
The northeast Albuquerque family does not want to be identified. They want all the recognition to go to Albuquerque Police officer Luis Hernandez.
Hernandez responded to a call Thursday of panhandlers out at Lomas and San Mateo, a mother, father and their 2-year-old daughter in 35 degree weather.
"I asked them why they were out panhandling, especially with it being that cold with that little girl," Hernandez says.
They told him they found out just before Christmas their daughter would need major heart surgery in a few weeks.
Insurance paid for the mother and daughter to fly to specialists at a children's hospital in Denver but not the father.
"Even if it's just a one iota of a chance I wouldn't see my daughter again, there's that chance and I wouldn't miss it for the world," the father says.
Hernandez says he was moved by the story because he went through something similar two years ago when he learned his six-year-old son was diagnosed with epilepsy.
"I've seen it firsthand with my own children, and my fellow officers stepped up to help in my time of need," Hernandez says. "It was just my time to give back."
Hernandez took the father to a bus depot and bought him a ticket to join his wife and daughter in Denver next week.
"When I talked to the dad and the mom, I said, ‘You know, the only thing I ask is that you call me back and let me know how everything went,'" Hernanez said.
"He doesn't know me from Adam, but he went above and beyond his call of duty to serve and protect the community and he's definitely served very well," the father says. "He will have a special place in mine and my family's hearts forever."
The family will make the trip on Wednesday and the young girl is scheduled for surgery on Friday.
Some Albuquerque elementary kids have been very busy playing Santa, and on Thursday they presented the results of their work to the Marines.
Crews are on scene of a crash involving a pedestrian at Broadway and Lomas. Officials have closed eastbound Lomas at the intersection.
New Mexico honored a fallen hero Thursday as family, friends and law enforcement officers gathered for the funeral of Sandoval County Sheriff's Sergeant Robert Baron.
Closing arguments in a right-to-die case wrapped up just before noon in an Albuquerque courtroom.
College students are steaming ahead toward their winter break, but crime on campus could spike as more students will be gone.
An overnight fire consumed a garage at a home on Albuquerque's West Side.