TEMPLE TERRACE, Fla. (WFLA) — A long-awaited reunion almost canceled by COVID-19 restrictions ended up being the last time a Florida veteran and his son would see each other.
David Lorenzo, 65, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, died about two weeks after he saw his son Nathan Turley-Knight for the first time since a custody battle in the early 1980s separated them.
The joyful reunion ended in a matter of hours earlier this month after Lorenzo had to be admitted to James Haley VA Medical Center with health issues.
Turley-Knight made several phone calls and sent emails to sources from Tampa to Washington, D.C., but said he was either ignored or told he could not visit his father due to COVID-19 protocols.
“It took calling (WFLA) to get me in that hospital,” Turley-Knight said. “The fact that it was so soon after that he actually passed away. If you hadn’t pulled the strings that you pulled, we would not have been able to say goodbye.”
Lorenzo’s wife, Tama, said he had searched for his son for decades with no idea until the reunion that Turley-Knight was growing up in Carrollwood while the Lorenzos lived in nearby Temple Terrace.
“It just made our hearts break a little more because we were so close,” Tama Lorenzo said. “We were so close and could’ve seen him.”
The break in the search came when a woman helping Lorenzo called Turley-Knight, who had relocated to Kentucky. Turley-Knight said he was suspicious at first but eventually set up a reunion that was scheduled for early March.
Lorenzo said her late husband had just about given up on saying goodbye to his son after he was admitted to the hospital after the initial reunion.
“We had been trying and trying and trying and again banging our heads against brick walls…” she said.
Turley-Knight, who is an Army veteran, said the hospital visit at Haley became even more important after his father died.
“I would’ve never been able to say goodbye,” Turley-Knight said. “We didn’t realize it at the time, but the hospital visit was goodbye.”
And the final hug?
“I think it was everything,” Lorenzo said. “Everything to David.”
They missed out on nearly 40 years of time, but for Turley-Knight, a few words from his father during their final moments together helped make the time sort of melt away.
“He looked me right in the eye and said, ‘You will see me again,'” Turley-Knight said. “And that hug. That hug meant everything.”
Lorenzo’s widow said while her husband is gone, the connection with his son and newly discovered grandchildren lives on.
“I have the big family I always wanted. We found his son he always wanted,” she said. “It’s an amazing thing. This is definitely a Godsend.”
A VA spokesperson said she could not comment on specific cases due to patient privacy, but she added that visitation requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.