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Patient and UVA Nursing Student Reunite at Pinning Ceremony - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Patient and UVA Nursing Student Reunite at Pinning Ceremony

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Olivia Calzada and Russell Owings Olivia Calzada and Russell Owings

A Nelson County man diagnosed with cancer last year returned to the University of Virginia Saturday to reconnect with a special nurse who cared for him.  The reunion captured a connection the patient says lifted his spirits during a tough time.

Russell Owings, 53, of Arrington, says he remembered UVA School of Nursing student Olivia Calzada's positive personality and smile when he met her in November 2012.  He said, "She always walked in with a big smile."

Owings was in the midst of a weeklong stay at the UVA Medical Center, when Calzada walked into his life.  "Out of the 30 or so nurses I had, she really stood out," he said.

He endured more than 30 radiation treatments and two rounds of chemotherapy for the esophageal cancer that spread from his tonsil and lymph node.  Owings was still coming to grips with his devastating disease when Calzada was assigned to his room on her oncology rotation. 

She said, "They just said he's kind of quiet, doesn't want to talk a lot and I thought 'OK that's fine' and we ended up sort of just chatting away all day long, so that was special to know that I could make him feel little bit more comfortable."

Owings says he was comfortable enough to share more than he could recall later on.

"I must have shared a lot more than I thought because when I saw her last, she asked me about several things that I told her about that I don't really remember talking about," he said. 

Owings didn't remember Calzada's name when he left - just vaguely what she looked like and a few details.

He said, "I remember that she played in the marching band and that she was a senior in nursing school."

But it was enough for him to find her more than five months later.

"There was just a special connection," Calzada said.  "I called my mom and I said, ‘Oh, do you remember that patient I told you about a long time ago?' And she's like, ‘Yes.' And I'm like, ‘Oh, he's looking for me."

Saturday, Owings and Calzada reunited at the School of Nursing's Pinning Ceremony.

"It's a really great reinforcement that I'm doing something that I should be doing," Calzada said.  "I love nursing and that kind of validates everything that I've been doing for four years." 

It was a chance to celebrate her success and see that unforgettable smile one more time.

Owings said, "It's important for me to support her, meet her family and like I said, she's just a very special part of my life and I'll remember her forever."

The pair first reunited about five weeks ago after Owings had neck surgery, which was his final treatment.  He says the cancer is now fully in remission.

Owings is back at work full-time now as a food safety director for BioSafe System, which keeps him traveling every week.

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