In 1990 Vilma Wong, a neonatal ICU nurse, cared for a premature baby by the name of Brandon Seminatore. Twenty-eight years and thousands of patients later, Wong had a coincidental reconnection with the boy she’d treated decades earlier.
Nurse and mom-of-two Vilma Wong has spent more than three decades caring for the some of the most vulnerable people in our population, namely babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. “Yes, she is one cool mom,” her daughter Stephanie wrote on Facebook.
Wong has spent her whole career at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (LPCH) in Palo Alto, California, after moving to the U.S. aged 16 and then completing a degree. Many thousands of babies passed in and out of Wong’s care during that time – and one of them was a prematurely born boy named Brandon Seminatore.
In 1990 Seminatore’s mom underwent an emergency C-section to deliver him 11 weeks early. The newborn baby weighed a mere 2 pounds 6 ounces. And as soon as Seminatore came into the world, doctors brought him to the NICU at LPCH.
Wong, along with another LPCH nurse named Kas Pilon, took care of the fragile Seminatore. He remained under their watch for more than a month before he was allowed to go home. His mom Laura lauded the nurses, telling The Mercury News, “They helped calm a lot of our fears.”
From then on, the Seminatore family always remembered the nurses who had cared for their son at such an important time in his life. And 28 years later, a serendipitous turn of events brought the nurse and her former patient back together.
In September of 2018 Wong, 54, clocked in to start her shift in the NICU. The scene was the same as usual – incubators switched on to help regulate the preemies’ temperatures, feeding and breathing tubes dangling around them.
But as Wong looked on, there was one thing out of place. A man she didn’t recognize wearing blue scrubs stood near one of the incubators. It was normal protocol for hospital staffers to speak with the nurses at their station first, after all.
So, it was up to Wong to figure out who the man in scrubs was. She told The Mercury News that she asked him, “Who are you?” And when he identified himself, Wong felt as though she recognized his last name.
The man was in fact a second-year resident who was learning to be a child neurologist. But Wong wanted to know more about him, trying to figure out why his name rang a bell. “I kept asking where he was from,” she recalled.
“He told me that he was from San Jose, California,” Wong continued. Then, the resident told her something that was even more intriguing to her. “As a matter of fact, he was a premature baby born at our hospital,” she explained.
With that, the pieces started falling into place for the neonatal nurse. “I then got very suspicious,” Wong said. “Because I remember being the primary nurse to a baby with the same last name.”
Incredibly, Wong hadn’t just remembered her former patient’s last name – she remembered his dad’s profession, too. So, Wong asked the resident if his father was a cop. With that, the room went silent.
It wasn’t just Wong who recognized her patient, in fact – Seminatore knew who she was, too. “Then he asked if I was Vilma,” Wong recalled. The moment they reconnected was “surreal,” Seminatore later told The Independent.
Seminatore went on to explain that his mom had asked him to keep an eye out for Wong while on his rounds. However, the 28-year-old assumed that his former nurse had probably retired, and so he didn’t foresee running into her.
“I never expected to meet a provider who took care of me when I was a baby,” Seminatore said. When he reunited with Wong, he immediately told his parents – they remembered her, too, of course. And they texted back a photo of the pair from 1990, with Wong holding Seminatore as a preemie nearly three decades earlier.
The incident gave Seminatore cause to reflect on how far he had come. “When Vilma recognized my name, I remembered the photos my parents had shown me,” he said. “And it truly sank in that I was one of these babies. I’ve come full circle, and I’m taking care of babies with the nurse who took care of me.”
Seminatore said he couldn’t be sure if his history in the NICU had led him to his life’s work, although he acknowledged that it might have been a contributing factor. As for Wong, she felt that the reunion with her former patient was what her job was all about.
“I love my job as an NICU nurse, and I consider myself very lucky to be in a profession that I love and make a difference in somebody’s life,” Wong told The Independent. The 54-year-old added that she wasn’t going to retire any time soon.
The reunion – and the pair’s before-and-after pictures – delighted those who saw them on the hospital’s Facebook page, where they were shared on thousands of occasions. Many added their own stories about Wong, in fact, who had clearly touched a lot of people throughout her career in nursing. “The world needs more Vilmas,” one grateful reader wrote.