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A critically ill girl got to see her dad, thanks to an office worker who stayed late

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain. "My Unsung Hero" tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. And today's story comes from Daniel Willingham. In 2010, Willingham was driving home to central Virginia from Maryland when he got a call from his wife. She was in Canada with their kids, visiting family.

DANIEL WILLINGHAM: And she knew I was driving. And the first thing she said was, pull over, so I knew this couldn't be good. And indeed, she was calling from SickKids Hospital in Toronto. Our daughter, Esprit, was in the pediatric intensive care unit. And she had some sort of virus. We never did find out what it was, but she had a chromosome disorder that made any illness, even just a cold, an ordeal for her. And when my wife called, Esprit was on a ventilator. So there was real reason to think she might not survive this.

So I hang up, and I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to get to Canada. I can't just go to the airport 'cause I don't have my passport with me, so I have to drive home. And when I get there, I book a flight to Toronto later that evening, and that's when I realized my passport had expired. Now, you can get an emergency passport renewal if it's literally a matter of life or death. But I had to do the paperwork at a State Department office in downtown Washington. And with no traffic, that's, like, 2 1/2 hours from my house, and it was, like, 4 in the afternoon by that point. So there was no chance I was going to get there before the office closed.

And this is where my unsung hero enters because somebody in that office was willing to wait for me. I think I got there around 8 o'clock that evening. Then I walk up to this big office building, and it just looks lifeless. And, you know, I'm peering in the door, and then out of the shadows, this young man walks into the lobby and lets me in. And I remember nothing about the process or what we said to one another. I hope I thanked him, but I know I got my passport. I got to the hospital in Toronto late that night, and I was able to be with my wife and daughter.

Esprit did survive that illness, and she lived 11 more years. And there were a lot of sung heroes, so to speak, associated with that episode. But I never properly thanked that young man who gave up his evening so that a dad, who was a stranger to him, could be with his sick daughter a little sooner.

CHANG: Daniel Willingham lives in Charlottesville, Va., where he's a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. You can find more stories from "My Unsung Hero" wherever you get your podcasts. And to share the story of your unsung hero, visit myunsunghero.org for instructions on how to send a voice memo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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