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A chance encounter reunites NICU nurse with a former patient, now a physician

Neonatal intensive care unit nurse Vilma Wong recognized the name of one of the residents one day — he was one of her former patients.

Brandon Seminatore, MD, was born at Stanford 28 years ago at just 29-weeks gestation, and was cared for in the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford neonatal intensive care unit for over a month before his parents were able to bring him home to San Jose. During that time, they developed a close relationship with his primary care nurse, Vilma Wong.

Fast forward nearly 30 years: Seminatore is healthy and is currently a second year pediatric neurology resident at Packard Children’s. During his morning rounds on the NICU earlier this month, Wong recognized his name — what a memory!

Vilma and baby Brandon

Packard Children's posted their story on social media and it has reached more than a million people, as well as received attention in the media.

Wong recounts the moment they reunited:

Brandon was on my team and taking care of one of my patients. I asked who he was and his last name sounded very familiar. I kept asking questions, like where he was from and he told me he was from San Jose, and that as a matter of fact, he was a premature baby born at our hospital. I then got very suspicious because I remember being the primary nurse to a baby with the same last name. To confirm my suspicion, I asked him if his dad was a police officer. And there was a big silence. Then he asked me if I was Vilma. I said yes!

When Seminatore began his residency at Packard Children’s, his mother asked him to look for nurse Wong in the NICU. Assuming she had retired by now, he didn’t think much more of it. But soon that all changed, Seminatore said:

Meeting Vilma was a surreal experience. When Vilma recognized my name, it truly sunk in that I was one of these babies. I’ve come full-circle and I’m taking care of babies with the nurse that took care of me.

Seminatore's parents were thrilled to hear about their reunion, and shared the picture they had of Vilma holding him on her lap, which they’ve kept all these years.

“I was in shock initially, but overjoyed to know that I took care of him almost 30 years ago and now he's a pediatric resident to the same population he was part of when he was born,” Wong said.

“Meeting Vilma showed me the dedication and love she has for her career,” Seminatore said. “She cares deeply for her patients, to the point that she was able to remember a patient’s name almost three decades later. Not all of us will get the chance to see our patients grow up, and I was so happy to be able to share that moment with her.”

Wong has been a nurse in the NICU at Packard Children’s for 32 years. NICU nurses, who provide so much of the hands-on care of some of the hospital’s most fragile patients, wear many hats and deal with high-stress situations on a daily basis. “Although it is a very challenging profession, being a NICU nurse is also very rewarding,” Wong said. “I consider myself very lucky to be in a profession that I love, and to make a difference in somebody's life.”

Reflecting on the bond they share, Seminatore echoed Wong’s sentiments:

We all try to give our patients the best chance to grow up happy and healthy. This story is for families with children who have had a rough start in life. I want to give them hope.

A version of this story originally appeared on Packard Children's Happier, Healthier Lives blog.

Photos courtesy of Lucile Packard Children Hospital Stanford and Brandon Seminatore

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