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Video: Nurse reunited with dying father

  1. Closed captioning of: Nurse reunited with dying father

    >>> is assistant head church at calvary hospital in the bronx. last week a patient with terminal cancer was admitted with a familiar name, victor peraza, the same name as her estranged father who vanished from wanda 's life more than 40 years ago when she was just a baby. wanda went to the man's hospital room and both instantly recognized each other. in a moment that neither will ever forget. wanda rodriguez joins us now. wanda , good morning. thank you so much for coming on and talking about this.

    >> good morning, lester.

    >> tell me when the last time you saw your father -- i understand that you never saw pictures as you were growing up. what did you know about him?

    >> that's correct. i knew that he -- he basically left, you know, when i was an infant. and that i resembled him and that my parents just basically split up when i was younger for their own personal reasons.

    >> so you're at work --

    >> and that's all i knew. i never knew anything else.

    >> the name of this patient and you recognized the name. when you walked into that room and you saw him, can you describe the flood of emotions and what you were thinking?

    >> i walked into the room and he looked right at me and i saw his eyes and i kind of knew at that moment but i just wanted to make sure. so i just asked him shortly after i welcomed him if he had any children. he said, i have a daughter named gina and a daughter named wanda . and the minute he said that i just -- i just burst into tears and ran out of the room because i just couldn't take it. and shortly after that, i came back in, after i was a little more calmer, walked right back into the room and looked at him and i said, hi, i'm wanda . i'm your daughter. and he looked at me and he said, i know. i know you're my daughter. he said, i knew that when you walked out of the room. i said, that's my daughter, wanda . and it was an awkward moment. i held his hand, and within less than five minutes i just embraced him and just gave him the biggest kiss because i was so happy.

    >> what a moment you describe, and, you know, i think about this story and i think you could have been angry because he left you or you could have found this forgiveness.

    >> absolutely.

    >> you chose to find forgiveness. i know your father has terminal cancer. how do you view these days that you have together?

    >> i'm just cher ishg every moment with him because i know that i don't have much time left. it's very sad that we're meeting under these circumstances. he said that to someone the other day, what a moment to have met my daughter in this way, but how sad it is that i'm meeting her now that i'm dying.

    >> and, wanda , i know this is difficult. you have three children. they've had a chance to meet their granddad. how has that been for them?

    >> it's a bittersweet moment. my kids were very happy to see him, welcomed him as well with open arms and i bring them every day when i can just so they can enjoy the little time with their grandpa as well.

    >> and i know because he's a family member you're not allowed to actually take part in his care but you spend a lot of time in the hospital with him. can you tell me the kind of things that you two share and what you talk about, what memories you may have in common?

    >> we just basically talk about things that just come up in conversation. i don't ask him questions directly. of course i'm curious but i try not to ask him questions that i really don't care to know the answers about, just catching up on, you know, the person he is. i want to know what we have in common, what are his likes, what are his dislikes, and i found out recently that he has a love for pets. he loves dogs. i happen to love dogs. he loves classical music , which i do as well. and he's just -- i'm very much like him i realized in the past few days. i realize i'm very much like my dad. and i'm glad i had the opportunity to find that out.

    >> well, you two are lucky to have each other and certainly cherish these moments. wanda rodriguez, thank you so much for coming on and sharing this tale for us. appreciate

Wanda Rodriguez visits her father, Victor Peraza, at Calvary Hospital in New York.
TODAY contributor
updated 9/6/2010 12:52:27 PM ET 2010-09-06T16:52:27

Wanda Rodriguez never knew her father growing up. Victor Peraza split from her mother just months after she was born and was never a part of their lives. By chance, the New York nurse was reunited with her dad some 41 years after she last laid eyes on him as an infant.

But sadly, just as Rodriguez is getting to know her father and catch up on lost years, cancer threatens to take Peraza away from her again.

Rodriguez, assistant head nurse at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, N.Y., was discussing new admissions with a doctor Aug. 25 when she heard her long-lost father's name. And even though she had not seen so much as a photo of her dad growing up, she knew the name.

She made a bee-line for the patient’s bed.

“I walked into the room and he looked at me and I saw his light eyes and I kind of knew at that moment,” Rodriguez told TODAY's Lester Holt on Monday. “I just wanted to make sure, so I asked him if he had any children, and he said, ‘I have a daughter named Gina and a daughter named Wanda.’

“The minute I heard I just burst into tears and ran out of the room,” Rodriguez said, choked up with emotion as she related the story.

Through her tears, Rodriguez confided to a doctor in the hospital hallway she believed she had just met her dad after 41 years apart. The doctor teared up, too, but also informed her that Peraza needed to be moved to another unit because hospital staff aren’t allowed to care for family members.

Still, Rodriguez wasn’t going to let a long waited-for opportunity go to waste. “I came back in [to his room] after I was a little calmer, looked at him and said, ‘Hi, I’m Wanda, I’m your daughter.’ He looked right at me and said, ‘I know, I know you’re my daughter. I knew that when you walked into the room – I said, ‘That’s my daughter Wanda!’ "

Within minutes, all the pain and heartache Rodriguez had felt about having an absentee father growing up was quickly washed away by the magic of the moment.

“It was [initially] an awkward moment,” she told Holt. “[But] I held his hand, and within five minutes I just embraced him and gave him the biggest kiss because I was so happy.”

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Rodriguez learned that father Victor had been living in the same borough of New York City she was raised in for most of his life. A teen dad, Peraza divorced Wanda’s mother, leaving her to raise Wanda and her older sister Gina as a single mom. He never remarried, had recently relocated to Astoria, Queens, and had been in and out of hospitals since he was diagnosed with terminal cancer a year ago.

It was an amazing stroke of luck that father and daughter were reunited. That he ended up at Calvary Hospital was coincidence enough, but out of seven units he could have been assigned to at Calvary, he ended up in his daughter’s.

Rodriguez broke into tears when Holt asked her whether it is bittersweet to finally meet her father at a time when he is dying of cancer.

“I’m just cherishing every moment with him, because I know that I don’t have much time left,” she said. “It’s very said we’re meeting under these circumstances, he said that to someone the other day.

"What a moment to have met my daughter in this way, but how sad it is that I’m meeting her now that I’m dying," Rodriguez quoted Peraza as saying.

Rodriguez is making the most of the time she has left with her dad. She typically arrives at the hospital several hours before her work shift starts to spend time with him, and often spends several hours after work at his beside.

Victor Peraza meets his grandchildren.
She resists the notion to browbeat Peraza for leaving the family and staying out of their lives for more than 40 years. “Of course I’m curious, but I try not to ask him questions that I really don’t care to know the answers about,” she said.

But guilt still weighs heavy on Peraza, Rodriguez told the New York Post. “He keeps begging me for forgiveness and says, ‘I wasn’t a good father,’ “ she said. “And I tell him, ‘The past is the past. You can’t change the past. I love you.’ “

Rodriguez told Holt she prefers to question him on other matters, to find out how far the apple falls from the tree. Turns out, it doesn’t fall far at all.

“I found out that he has a love for pets, he loves dogs,” she said. “I happen to love dogs. He loves classical music, which I do as well. I’m very much like him, I think I’ve realized in the past few days. I’m very much like my dad, and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to find that out.”

Rodriguez’s own three children have quickly bonded with their grandfather as well, enjoying combing their grandfather’s hair and posing for cherished family photos. Sister Gina has also visited Peraza and brought along her children. Even their mother has visited his bedside.

Peraza turns 61 in a week, and Wanda is hoping he survives so they can celebrate. But whatever his fate, Rodriguez says she and her father as well are happy they’ve gotten the chance to share a little time together.

“He’s at peace,” Rodriguez told the New York Post. “He’s had closure. He said, ‘Wanda, I’ve met you. I’m OK. I’m ready to die.”

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