Sylvester Stallone delivers moving message to dying patient

UCLA Health’s 3 Wishes Program connected the ‘Rambo’ and ‘Rocky’ star with the patient and his family.
Paul Aguilar is in his hospital bed, with nurse David Yamada standing by his side, grasping his hand. Yamada is also holding a tablet with the message from Sylvester Stallone.
Paul Aguilar is in his hospital bed, with nurse David Yamada standing by his side. Yamada is holding a tablet with the message Sylvester Stallone delivered to Aguilar. (Photo courtesy of the Aguilar Family).

There are no lengths UCLA Health’s 3 Wishes Program won’t go to when trying to make the end-of-life experience comforting and personally meaningful for a dying patient and their loved ones.

That was what the program did for the Aguilar family, whose loved one, Paul, had reached a point where despite months of intensive medical care for end stage heart failure, his time was near. 

The former schoolteacher’s hero was Sylvester Stallone, especially the actor’s character Rambo, whom Paul often quoted and even dressed up as for several Halloweens. The family told social worker Codie Lieto that they were hoping somehow Stallone could deliver a personal video message to Paul.

Lieto relayed this to Thanh Neville, MD, medical director and founder of the UCLA 3 Wishes Program, and she and others began working on making this wish come true. And they wanted the wish delivered in time for a last birthday celebration for Paul – just days away.

Stallone was ultimately reached on location by the Motion Picture & Television Fund, a UCLA Health affiliate partner. Like everyone else involved in the wish, Stallone didn’t hesitate to respond, recording a moving video message for Paul: 

 “Paul, life has dealt you a tough hand. But I know you’re a fighter and that you’ll keep punching until you can’t punch any more. I respect men like you. You’re the real Rocky, the real Rambo.”

On March 17, the day of Paul’s 56th birthday, the nurses and his family gathered around his hospital bed in the Coronary Critical Care unit (CCU). They were in on the surprise and had decorated his room with Rambo posters and Happy Birthday signs. Then David Yamada, one of the nurses on Paul’s care team, approached Paul’s bedside with a tablet. His family gathered around. 

As he watched the video, Paul’s eyes widened in disbelief. His family laughed and cried with him in delight. It was a sad and emotional day, but it was also filled with joy – and will comfort the family as they look back on the memory. Paul passed away the next day. 

The 3 Wishes Program, which started in 2017, has granted nearly 6,000 wishes for 1,700 patients including a mariachi concert, a sunset wedding, plaster-of-Paris molds of loved ones’ hands entwined, and paintings depicting a loved one’s hobbies or passions. 

A palliative care experience that lives on in memories.

Learn more about UCLA Health's 3 Wishes Program

Most are inexpensive. But they are all priceless to the families that receive them.

And they’re priceless to the health care staff caring for these patients and for those involved in making the wishes come true, including Stallone. 

The experience touched him deeply. 

While he never got to meet Paul and his family, he sent a second video message to the family after they reached out to thank him. He said his life is now changed forever by the act of kindness he participated in and that he will never forget Paul. 

Everyone is a hero in this story. 

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