Sept. 3, 2010#151; -- A nurse was reunited with the father she had never met after a chance bedside encounter at a New York hospital for the terminally ill.
Wanda Rodriguez, 41, a head nurse at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx, was working her usual late shift last week when she overheard a doctor talking on the phone about a new admission. The patient's name, Victor Peraza, sounded familiar.
"I froze for a second," Rodriguez said. "That's my father's name."
Born in the Bronx, Rodriguez said her parents separated while she was still an infant. She never heard from him again. She walked over to the patient's room.
"I thought if he's my complexion, if he has green eyes, he could be my dad," she recalled. "I go in and I look at him and he looks right at me. He's dark and he has light eyes. I thought, "Oh my god, I think this is him."
She welcomed him to Calvary and asked if he was comfortable. Then she asked if he had children. "Yes," she recalled him saying, "but my children are grown. I have a daughter named Gina and a daughter named Wanda."
Rodriguez said she grew emotional and bolted out of the room. "I couldn't help myself," she said. "I was in shock. I thought I was going to faint. I couldn't believe it."
In the corridor, she was comforted by a physician. "That's my father," she cried. "I haven't seen him in 41 years."
A hospital supervisor immediately wanted to move Peraza, 60, to another floor because of the potential conflict of interest. "I said, 'No, you can't do that,'" Rodriguez told her supervisor. "Not yet."
She walked back to the room.
"Hi, I'm Wanda," she told the new patient. "I'm your daughter. He said, 'I know you're my daughter.' I think he knew like I knew. When we looked at each other, we knew instantly."
Peraza, reached by phone at the hospital, said: "Miracles do happen and seeing my daughter again was one of them."
On the night of their reunion, Rodriguez said, there was awkward silence when she asked where he had been all these years. But the answer to the question didn't really matter now, she said. "I held his hand and then I was holding him and hugging him," she said. "It was a magic moment, and he started singing 'This magic moment.'"
Nurse for Terminally Ill Finds Dad in Hospital Bed
She told him about her husband and the three grandchildren he never met.
"Then he asked for forgiveness," Rodriguez recalled. "He said, 'I know I wasn't a good father. I regret the mistakes I made. I said, 'I forgive you. Let's not talk about that now. I want to enjoy this time."
That night, a Wednesday, she shaved and washed her father.
"I remember leaving and saying, 'Goodnight daddy, I love you,'" Rodriguez said, breaking down. "It was so beautiful because I always dreamed of saying that. He said, 'I love you, too.'"
Peraza has since met his grandchildren and been reunited with his other daughter, Gina. Their mother has also visited her former husband.
Eventually Peraza was transferred to another unit because of the potential conflict, but Rodriguez continued to visit before and after work and during her breaks. She decorated his room with framed photos of his daughters and grandchildren. She placed a radio/cassette player near his bed and brought him home-cooked meals. Sometimes, when her shift is over, Rodriguez just sits at his bedside.
"It doesn't matter if he is sleeping, I find peace being near him," she said. "I feel complete."
Peraza was diagnosed with cancer a year and half ago, Rodriguez said. He had bounced around various hospitals before being admitted at Calvary.
"I'm hoping he makes it to his 61st birthday on Sept. 12," Rodriguez said. "I been at the hospital 23 years and you never know with any patient."
The other night, Peraza called his daughter over to his bedside. "I'm Ok now, Wanda," she recalled him saying. "I can't believe you welcomed me the way you did."
Rodriguez added, "There is no resentment. I met him. What girl wouldn't want to meet her dad?"