TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Joy from a long-anticipated reunion was suddenly sapped by COVID-19 visitation restrictions at a local VA hospital, but a Tampa veteran was eventually allowed to see his son.

Army veteran Nathan Turley-Knight was 3 years old in the early 80s when his father David Lorenzo lost custody.

Lorenzo, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, lived in Temple Terrace in the coming years. Turley-Knight was raised by his adoptive family in a nearby Carrollwood neighborhood.

They were a short drive apart for more than a decade but were never able to find each other.

“He was searching for me a lot longer,” Turley-Knight said. “But yes, we were searching for each other.”

The break in their separation came when a woman helping Lorenzo find his son called Turley-Knight, who had relocated to Kentucky. Turley-Knight said he was suspicious at first but eventually set up a reunion that was scheduled for last week.

On Tuesday, the two veterans saw each other for the first time in nearly four decades.

“I cried,” Turley-Knight said. “He actually just grabbed my face then he hugged my wife and the word was just love over and over again.”

Lorenzo cried too and also handed his son a simple plastic car. It was something you could buy from a general store, but now it was priceless.

“When I was two he gave this to me and I played with it,” Turley-Knight said. “And he kept it all these years and this was the first thing he gave me the first time I saw him.”

But the plan to spend a week with his father ended after about four hours, when Lorenzo needed to return to James A. Haley due to ongoing medical issues. VA COVID-19 visitation protocol kept Turley-Knight out of the hospital to say “goodbye” and time was running out since he had to drive home to Kentucky by the weekend.

“I reached out to so many different people. The VA in Washington, vet centers, Senator Rick Scott,” Turley-Knight recalled. “I went as high as I thought I could go and, like I said, it took calling the news to get this to happen.”

The day after 8 On Your Side called and emailed, Turley-Knight and his family were allowed in his father’s room.

“I think [the call] was the one thing that actually got some results,” Turley-Knight said.

James A. Haley’s Public Affairs Officer Zoe Stagg said patient privacy regulations prevent her from commenting on the delay in Turley-Knight’s case and his claims that the VA did not respond until 8 On Your Side got involved. Stagg did emphasize, “we put our veteran patients first.”

“Currently under our COVID-19 protection protocol, we are accepting visitors for end-of-life care,” Stagg said. “However, we do evaluate everyone on a case-by-case and day-by-day basis to keep patients, staff and our community safe.”

Turley-Knight said the red tape was frustrating, but he added seeing his dad again and getting the chance to say goodbye forged an unbreakable, spiritual connection.

“And I’ll never be separated from him again,” Turley-Knight said. “And that’s the best feeling in the world.”