Life Video

By Luke Kenton

This ailing mother was left gob-smacked when the chef of her birthday dinner turned out to be her son that she hadn’t seen in over three years. 

Turning 87 on June 15, the last few years have been rather difficult for Helen DeJohn, after a series of health scares have seen her spend most of her time in and out of the hospital wards of Sicklerville, New Jersey.

Surviving breast cancer, colon cancer and two major strokes, the mother-of-two’s health has seen a ‘rapid decline’ in the last 12 months, according to her son, Carl D’Argenzio, who was determined to make her birthday extra special this year. 

Eliciting the help of his older brother, Anthony, 61 – who hasn’t returned to New Jersey from Florida in over three years – the pair divulged a cunning plan to reduce their famously stoic mother to tears.


Secretly flying home for the family event in Helen’s favourite restaurant, the Sakura Japanese Steakhouse, an hibachi chef with a familiar face emerges at the back of the dining room. 

Honking a horn as he pushes a cart past his mother’s table, Helen’s expression of utter confusion soon turns to tearful delight as she looks up to see her estranged son smiling back at her. 

With her mouth agape, any attempt to stem the flow of tears were in vain as Helen sobs uncontrollably into her napkin. 

Delighted to have made his mother’s birthday that extra bit special, self-employed Carl said: “My mom hasn’t been in good health.

“After surviving cancer twice and two strokes, she’s been in and out of hospital in the intensive care unit. 

“Anthony hadn’t seen her in three years, and with her rapid decline in health it felt like now would be the perfect time for him to pay a visit. 

“Three days before the dinner, Anthony called me and we hatched out the idea of surprising her. 

“We’re regulars at Sakura and are very friendly with the staff – we pitched the idea to them and they were all onboard with helping us execute it.

“My mom was genuinely shocked and over the moon to see my brother again. 

“Both of them were as emotional with happiness as all of us were around them.

“I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.”