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‘She was my dad’s angel’: Family that lost loved one to COVID-19 finally meets the nurse who cared for him

A year since WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the virus has left its mark on Tampa Bay families and healthcare workers.

TAMPA, Fla. — One year ago on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Since then, our lives have all changed. You never realize how fragile life is until you feel the pain first hand. 

“It's tough for me to say he was or he is because he's still present in my life,” Martha Rodriguez said. 

Rodriguez lost her father Reynaldo to COVID-19 in January. 

Back in November, the 81-year-old was rushed to the ICU at AdventHealth Carrollwood. He was without family and on oxygen. 

“I think that was the hardest part for all of us, especially me,” Rodriguez said.

But a nurse assigned to take care of her father quickly became the family's angel. 

“It has definitely been, you know, emotionally and physically draining. Physically draining because of the fact that, you know, you cannot deal with these patients like you do you deal with your normal patients,” Nurse Shefali Lawrence said. 

She would make sure the family could communicate with him, he felt comfortable and was loved. Even though she was covered head to toe, Reynaldo knew when she was around. 

“It was a beautiful feeling with him because he was a Spanish gentleman, and he did not know a word of English. I, on the other hand, did not understand a word of Spanish at all. When he would say, ‘Thank you, mami’ that’s when I knew he was okay,” Lawrence said. 

Early January, Reynaldo was moved to hospice when his health declined. He was only given a few days to live. 

“On Wednesday, he fell asleep and he was comfortable. On Friday, at one o'clock in the afternoon that's when he passed away,” Rodriguez said.

Months later Martha wanted to say thank you to the nurse that kept her dad alive. She nominated Shefali for the hospital's Daisy Award to express her gratitude. 

AdventHealth West Florida Division captured their first time meeting at the Daisy Awards on video and shared it with 10 Tampa Bay.

“I didn't know what she looked like, but when she finally was nominated, and they said her name and she walked up, all I had to do was just look at her and I started to cry. I finally said, ‘Thank you, you were my dad's angel,’” Rodriguez said. 

The award was a surprise for the nurse that had been working since the start of the pandemic. She was grateful to finally meet her for the first time but said she was just doing her job and caring for her father the best she could. 

“I do believe now, after having received this honor that anyone can be an angel, if that's what you call it, by doing those little random acts of kindness,” Lawrence said.

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