Dying Navy veteran hopes to reunite with brother

Posted at 7:07 PM, Dec 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-31 12:45:06-05

SAN DIEGO -- A Navy veteran is halfway to fulfilling his dying wish -- to reunite with his brother.

These days, James Rutherford often needs a machine to help him breathe. However, weeks ago, something wonderful took his breath away.

"I consider it a Christmas miracle," Rutherford said.

The miracle began with heartache.

"I dabbled in crack cocaine, but that wasn't the problem. It was alcohol." 

Twenty-five years ago, the Navy veteran's life spiraled, leaving him on the streets for about five years. He lost touch with his only family -- his brother in Missouri. The Veterans Village of San Diego helped him get sober and get a job.

"The phone had been disconnected. He no longer lived there," Rutherford said.

Rutherford still couldn't find his brother.

In 2014, Rutherford was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. After chemotherapy, it went into remission. However, a few months ago, the cancer returned in force, and doctors have Rutherford six to 12 months to live. Weighing heaviest on his heart is losing touch with his brother.

"I didn't want to leave this world without saying goodbye properly," said Rutherford.

That's when the social worker of at Interim Healthcare -- his hospice program -- went into action. The group held a team meeting and one employee knew a police officer in Kansas City. Soon after, the search led to Rutherford's brother, Gary, who made a call.

"I felt I was on top of the world," said Rutherford.

Rutherford set up a Go Fund Me campaign to fly his brother from Missouri to San Diego.

"I want to tell him in person that I love him. I miss him. I want to hug him. This is my second chance," said Rutherford.