If truth really is stranger than fiction, then it stands to reason that it can also be more dramatic and inspirational. Such is the story of Niaz Farzadfar, a second-year BSN student at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles. This remarkably mature and self-aware 21-year-old has already faced some of life’s toughest challenges, surviving with a sunny attitude and a clear vision of what she hopes to achieve.
As members of the Persian Jewish minority in her native country of Iran, Niaz and her sister faced a future of fundamentalist religious persecution. Her mother, Mahnaz Shadnai, was a nurse, while her father, Homayoun “Benny” Farzadfar, ran an orphanage with the Red Cross. Shadnai recalls that while she was happy in Iran, “I didn’t like the way my daughters were treated.” In 1998, they immigrated to the United States for what Shadnai hoped would be “freedom and educational opportunity” for her girls. They settled in California, where they had some relations. “It was hard,” Niaz recalls. “The heartache my family and I went through to get here felt endless. We didn’t speak the language and my parents had no jobs.”
The family persevered and started life anew. Niaz remembers entering third grade and quickly mastering English. She graduated from high school in 2006, then enrolled at Los Angeles Pierce College to take her nursing prerequisites, where she earned a spot on both the Dean’s and President’s list of honor roll students. Meanwhile, her father had opened a dry cleaning business, while her mother became a med-surg nurse, a position she holds today at Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills, Calif.
Yet they had barely settled into their new lives when disaster struck. Three years after their arrival in the United States, Niaz’s father was diagnosed with colon cancer. The initial bout was successfully battled into remission, but a few years later the cancer reappeared, this time in the liver. At the age of 18, Niaz found herself helping care for her ailing father, who would pass away in December 2006. As heart-wrenching as it was for her at the time, today she can look back at the experience as transformative. “For the duration of my father’s sickness, I was faced with wonderful healthcare providers, such as nurses like my mother, and others who took care of my father. The experience I went through made me even more passionate and sure about nursing. It was those healthcare providers who made my experience with my father’s death, the hours leading up to it and the moment it happened, as good as they could be, and nothing can be more significant than that.”