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‘Even in passing, he was still able to help people’: Nursing award winner leaves lasting legacy

Posted Jul 9th, 2024

We are Niagara Health is a series of stories that celebrates the incredible people working and volunteering in our organization and how they make a difference in the lives of patients and coworkers every day.

Joseph Soriano, RN

Joseph Soriano, a registered nurse in the Welland Hospital Emergency Department, died in January after collapsing during a holiday party in his home. After his passing, he donated his organs and was recognized with an Excellence in Nursing award from Niagara Health for his contributions to patient care.

Gladys Soriano has a video saved to her phone of her husband, Joseph, being given a hero’s send-off.

It shows dozens of friends and family lining the hallway of a Hamilton hospital one day last January, waiting for Joseph to pass by. When he does, they clap and cheer. Some start to cry.

Gladys is overcome as she watches the replay of those few moments -- moments that Joseph, a registered nurse (RN) in the Welland Hospital Emergency Department, had no idea were happening.

A few days earlier, Joseph suffered brain death. A few weeks before that, he collapsed during a holiday party at the couple’s Port Colborne home.

In the phone video, he’s lying in a hospital bed being pushed through that hospital corridor by members of his care team and a representative from Trillium Gift of Life. They’re heading toward an operating room where the 34-year-old father of two would go on to impart a lasting legacy by donating his organs, including his heart, liver and lungs.

It was an altruistic act for which Joseph was recently recognized with a posthumous Excellence in Nursing award from Niagara Health. The award was accepted on his behalf by his sister, Jacqueline Soriano, who is also an RN at the Welland Hospital.

“Joseph held a profound respect for human dignity and an innate understanding of his patients' needs,” the nomination reads. “With heart and mind, he practised nursing with empathy and genuine care for each patient's well-being.

"In a final act of selflessness, he bestowed the gift of life through organ donation, continuing to serve as a nurse until his last moment.” 

Jacqueline Soriano, RN, accepts an Excellence in Nursing Award on behalf of her late brother, Joseph.

Jacqueline Soriano, a registered nurse at the Welland Hospital, accepts an Excellence in Nursing award on behalf of her late brother and fellow registered nurse, Joseph. Presenting the award is Shauna Speck, Welland Emergency Department Clinical Manager.

"He forged deep connections, offering unwavering support to patients, families and colleagues during difficult times… In a final act of selflessness, he bestowed the gift of life through organ donation, continuing to serve as a nurse until his last moment.” 

Had Joseph lived to accept the honour, Gladys, an RN in complex continuing care at the Fort Erie Site, is certain he’d be honoured and would have delighted in sharing it with his family, including daughters Jordynn, 5, and Francheska, 11 months.

“Joseph was hardworking and always put his heart and prudent mind into giving the best possible care to his patients and patients’ loved ones,” Gladys says. “I could imagine his voice and face, and how excited he would be to show me and the kids that recognition because everything he did was dedicated to us. He would always do his best to be able to give us everything.”

That was evident in the videos Gladys captured before that emotional hero’s send-off. After collapsing on Dec. 30, Joseph was rushed to hospital before being transferred to Hamilton for further care. His situation was serious but video of him feeding himself yogurt in a hospital bed just a few days later filled his care team and family with immeasurable hope he’d make a full and fast recovery, and return to nursing at Niagara Health.

Joseph pursued nursing in his native Philippines because of the opportunity the profession presented to work anywhere in the world. He turned out to be a natural caregiver.

“He was helpful to everybody,” Gladys says. “Even in passing, he was still able to help people.”

His career led him to Canada where he met Gladys, also from the Philippines, in a nursing group on Facebook in 2016. He was living in Niagara Falls and she was in Toronto, both working as in-home caregivers while studying for their nursing licensing exam. Joseph encouraged Gladys, then a registered practical nurse, to do the Internationally Educated Nurses Competency Assessment Program to become an RN.                                                                               

In 2018, the couple married and settled in Niagara where they began building their family and their careers with Niagara Health. Joseph also did travel nursing, providing care in Belleville, and worked as a financial advisor.

Given the person he was, an Excellence in Nursing award was likely inevitable at some point in his career.

“I know he deserved it because he worked so hard and because of his compassion in helping others. It’s his personality – being genuine to people and helping people. It’s innate in him. I feel badly he wasn’t able to receive it,” Gladys says.

“It is such a profound loss – for me, for his family, for my family, his friends, his colleagues. He taught me not to dwell on things but to move forward. I try. Right now, I do things to honour Joseph and for our girls.”

That includes respecting his wishes to be an organ donor. Even if Joseph hadn’t registered to be a donor, Gladys wanted to donate at least his heart. That way it would continue to beat, even if in someone else’s body. 

“If I donate it, there’s still a chance I may hear it again. I’m hopeful I will be able to hear it again in time,” she says. “I’m so proud of him like I was when he was alive.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Gladys and Joseph Soriano

Gladys and Joseph Soriano on a rare nursing shift together during the pandemic.

Niagara Health System