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Decades Later, Unexpected Reunion Allows Student to Repay Teacher's Kindness

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As a hospice social worker for AccentCare, Pedro Cortez has helped more than 300 patients and their families over the past three years navigate the end-of-life journey.

"There are days that I come home that I am mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted, but I never come home and wonder if what I did that day mattered,” the 37-year-old Cortez said.

While each and every case is different, it is common for Cortez to form a deep, emotional bond with a patient by the end of their time together.

That is not the case, however, with Connie Pico. 

That’s because it turns out Cortez and Pico already had a bond, one formed years before Cortez walked into the 65-year-old Pico’s room at Cupertino Healthcare and Wellness Center.

The first clue for Cortez was the name.

“I was like, ‘Connie Pico, why does that name sound so familiar to me?” Cortez said.

Once he discovered that Pico, like him, was from San Jose’s east side, everything came back to him.

“I asked her, 'Connie, did you ever work with students for reading?' And she said, 'Yes,'” Cortez said. “I said, 'You were my teacher and she said, 'I remember that.’”

Cortez, the son of Mexican immigrants, grew up in a Spanish-speaking home. While his parents stressed the importance of education, he needed someone outside of his family to teach him English. 

At Dorsa Elementary School, Cortez found that person in Pico.

"I just remember how approachable she was, how warm, loving. I mean, it was like when you wanted to talk to her she was always so positive and she was always so engaged and she was always willing to listen,” said Cortez. 

Cortez said it was Pico who taught him not just how to read but how to love reading. It was the foundation of the academic and professional success Cortez has earned since then.

And to now be able to use all that he has learned to help Connie? It’s humbling, Cortez said.

"It was a moment that had me full of gratitude," he said. "It was a moment of bliss and joy. It's just a moment of peace.”

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