Woman Reunites with Fishermen Who Saved Her After a Shipwreck Killed Her Family 35 Years Ago

Paul Strasser and Mark Pisano rescued Desireé Rodriguez from the ocean after a 1986 shipwreck killed her family

Desiree Rodriguez
Photo: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock

In 1986, 9-year-old Desireé Rodriguez was rescued from the Pacific Ocean by two fishermen after a shipwreck claimed the lives of her father, mother, aunt, uncle and sister.

Thirty-five years later, that sole survivor, now 44-year-old Desireé Campuzano, and the good Samaritans, Paul Strasser and Mark Pisano, were at last reunited after all three spent years thinking of the others.

"Desireé was a ghost," Strasser told the Los Angeles Times. "We saved her, she's out in the world. And that's all we know. We had no clues on anybody that knew how to get ahold of her."

Their reunion story began this past December, when fishing aficionado Philip Friedman launched a podcast, Friedman Adventures, that featured stories from fishermen talking about boats, catches and fishing tips. In one episode, Pisano appeared as a guest and talked about the 1986 rescue.

"My brain was like, 'I'm going to try to locate her,' " Friedman, 62 said of his reaction to the story. "We've got to finish this story!"

Desiree Rodriguez
Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock

Elsewhere, Pablo Peña was listening to the episode that featured Pisano, and told the L.A. Times it immediately triggered a memory of his. Peña, 41, recalled a conversation he had with a former co-worker who made an offhand comment about losing her parents in a boating accident and being the only survivor.

"It started to churn my wheels, and I was like, 'Well, it could be her,' " Peña told the outlet. "But he would have to say her name was Desireé Rodriguez to make this solid."

"Her name was Desireé Rodriguez, the girl we rescued," Pisano then said on the podcast. "There's like, I can't tell you, how many Desiree Rodriguezes in L.A."

Desiree Rodriguez
Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock

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"I was like, holy moly. Wow, this is just surreal," Peña said, noting that he sent a message to Friedman, who subsequently reached out to Desireé to make sure she wanted to meet her rescuers.

"I was just like, 'This is weird.' Not a bad weird, but it's just kind of eerie," she said. "After all these years, for this to come up — what are the chances? Very slim."

Friedman then devised a "dramatic" plan for reuniting Desireé with Strasser and Pisano on his podcast — "Something that those two guys, I think, will never, ever forget," he said.

Desireé came to the podcast recording as "Raquel," a translator who was going to tell the two fishermen's story on Spanish TV.

"I was nervous at first," she said. "Just seeing [the] guys and putting kind of finalization to the 'what happened.' "

In an emotional clip from the special episode, Pisano recognizes her and the group all break down in tears as she reveals, "I'm Desireé."

After they reunited, Desireé told the L.A. Times she intended to stay connected to her rescuers, and they have stayed true to that. Strasser said he has spoken to her on the phone, while Pisano has introduced her to his family.

"I feel like she's sort of our daughter, in a way, because we brought her back to life," Strasser said. "Even though we never knew each other."

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