HUNTLEY – Tiffanie Rodriguez lived and breathed hospitals.
It was there that she met her husband, where she worked as an oncology nurse for 22 years and where she died at age 45 from a sudden brain aneurysm while leaving a job interview Oct. 6.
Her family, including her husband, Joe, and her three children, Ayden, 15 who is nonverbal and autistic, Andrew, 11, and Emma, 10, are left without Tiffanie, who cared not only for them, but also for several cancer patients throughout the suburbs, her family said.
Neighbors created an online fundraiser at www.youcaring.com/joerodriguez-975817 that had raised $35,000 as of Tuesday night. The family lived in Huntley for 13 years.
“My neighbor Randy Hart [whose family started the fundraiser] came running over and said, ‘Oh my God, have you looked at the page?’ and I broke down in tears,” Joe said. “I couldn’t believe the amount of love and support we’ve received. Everyone just adored her and she was truly a one-of-a-kind person, and I’m not just saying that because I loved her with all my heart.”
Tiffanie worked at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge and received her master’s degree in 2016 from Benedictine University.
“She didn’t go to a patient’s room just to change an IV and get out as fast as she could, but she’d speak with these patients and cry with them and every day she’d come home with genuine stories,” Joe said.
Working in Park Ridge was a long drive, Joe said, traveling 40 miles each way, but she did not want leave her co-workers and patients. But she saw an ad for a new job at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin and was inspired to apply, Joe said.
She quickly rewrote her résumé, flew past a phone interview and headed out for the interview at 9:30 a.m.
“She was so happy that morning,” Joe said. “She was a little nervous, but I texted her and said she’s going to do great. I had to take a photo of her in her suit because she looked so beautiful. I had no idea it would be the last time I would see her.”
Later, Joe saw that it was about noon and he wondered why his wife hadn’t called. He was making lunch for his children when he got a phone call from the hospital’s emergency room. He said he thought maybe she had a nervous breakdown or tripped and fell.
“Never in a million years, though, did I think it would be worse than that,” Joe said. “I’ve worked in hospitals for a long time, and I know when you walk into the emergency room and there is a chaplain waiting for you and they try to escort you into a private room, nothing good is coming. I just kept saying, ‘no, no, no, no.’”
It was then he found out that after the interview she was escorted to the exit, walked about 20 to 30 feet away and collapsed into a bush from a brain aneurysm.
Even after her death, she still managed to save people, Joe said. Tiffanie was an organ donor and helped 16 people.
Joe met Tiffanie at Lutheran General Hospital when he worked there as a security guard. They were both called to a room because one of her patients was trying to escape.
“As I walked into that room, I saw her and she instantly caught my attention,” Joe said. “I never believed in love at first sight until I saw her, and I looked at my partner and we gave each other the guy nod.”
At the end of their first date, they sat in the parking lot of the hospital until 5:30 a.m. talking for hours. Joe went to drop her off at her car when he realized his car battery died while they were listening to music. He had to sheepishly call friends working in security and get a jump-start, he said.
“I went home and went to bed and I called my mom later the next day and told her, ‘Mom, I’m going to marry this girl.’ I just knew it,” Joe said. “We spent 15 wonderful years together, had three beautiful babies, and I feel so lost without her.”
Joe has been a stay-at-home father for the past seven years in order to take care of the children after he was unable to get routine hours as a security guard. He said Ayden requires routine, and it was more affordable for him to take care of the kids than to hire day care.
Tiffanie’s mother, Beverly Collins of Elgin, said every parents knows their child is wonderful, but she didn’t realize how many people Tiffanie had helped until she saw an outpouring at her wake, with people from doctors to housekeeping in attendance.
Collins said she also is thankful for the fundraiser created and wants to keep all the comments said online about Tiffanie so her children can read it when they are older.
“Emma was concerned if they’d be able to stay in their house, but everyone’s help has just been great,” Collins said. “She was a great mom and would do everything and anything for those kids. Even when she had to work a 12-hour shift, was taking classes for her master’s degree and driving [80 miles] a day to work, ‘no’ wasn’t in her vocabulary for those kids.”