||Floriberto (Alberto) Velez, seated center, was reunited with his nephew, left, and his brother, right, after his friend Nestor Lazaro, rear, contacted the news media.
Three years ago, a man known as Alberto Velez was severely beaten by a gang of young people. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and significant memory loss with dire consequences: he couldn't remember his family and didn't know how to contact them.
After spending three months hospitalized at Bellevue, Velez entered Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility in April 2007, and he's been a resident there ever since. In time he befriended another resident, Nestor Lazaro. They play dominoes regularly. It's not just for recreation - it's part of Velez' treatment. It's a game where memory is vital, and Velez' had soon recovered sufficiently from his brain injury that he was able to beat Lazaro. But the whereabouts of his family remained a mystery.
So Lazaro decided to help his friend. A few weeks ago Lazaro contacted Channel 41 Univision, the Spanish-language television station. Reporter Berenice Gartner went to Coler-Goldwater and interviewed the two friends about Velez' plight. Shortly after the show aired, Velez' got some wonderful news: his relatives had seen the show and were already en route to Coler-Goldwater to see him. They live in Brooklyn.
When his brother and nephew walked through the door, it was evident that Velez recognized them instantly: He broke out into a huge smile.
The family had heard that Velez had been in an accident, but were unable to find him in any hospital. His brother Guarencio Velez said he had recognized him the moment he saw him on television.
"When I saw him, I said, 'My brother!' and I felt very happy."
Velez proudly introduced his brother and his nephew, Heliodoro Velez, to the other residents and staff at Coler-Goldwater. The brothers also called their mother in Mexico.
"I feel so happy," said his nephew. "Having my uncle back is the greatest gift."
The reunion was taped and aired on Univision. Since then Velez has also been reunited with his sister Silogonia, daughter and grandchild.
During the time Velez had been a resident at Coler-Goldwater, the staff had gotten some clues about his family. When he was admitted in 2007, Velez said he had family in the U.S. A couple of years later, he mentioned that he had family in Brooklyn. But he couldn't remember their names or addresses, and efforts to find them were futile.
Before moving ahead with the reunion, Coler-Goldwater staff members consulted with Velez and made sure that he was physically and mentally ready for this step. And before family members were allowed to see Velez, Coler-Goldwater staff verified their identities and their relationship to the patient.
Now Velez, his family and Coler-Goldwater staff are working on a plan to have Velez move in with his family and get treatment on an out-patient basis. In the process of getting his life back, there was one final surprise for Velez: his first name isn't Alberto after all. It's Floriberto.