Wanda Rodriguez visits her father, Victor Peraza, at Calvary Hospital in New York.
By Michael Inbar
updated 9/6/2010 12:52:27 PM ET
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.”
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