Hurricane Hero, Lifesaver Made Patient Part of Her Family


When Melissa Gary, Home Health Aide for the Gurwin Home Care Agency, met Renee G., it was not “love at first sight.” 

“She didn’t really want me in her home, because she felt she could still do things on her own.  I tried to show her that I could help…after about two years, we got along just fine!” she said with a laugh. 

Recently, Renee passed away, and Melissa sat down to remember her client of 11 years.  But she doesn’t talk of her as a client. “Renee was like one of my family; my kids knew her, my sisters knew her.  She was like another mom to me.  And she loved me, too.  How can you spend so much time with someone and not have that kind of relationship?” 

Melissa was with Renee five days a week, and sometimes more when she invited her to family gatherings or other events.  “She was part of my family. That’s just how it was,” Melissa said.

It was during Hurricane Sandy that Melissa and Renee truly became inseparable.  As the hurricane barreled down on the Long Island shores, evacuations began in the beach community that Renee called home.  Although evacuation was mandatory, Renee refused to leave her home, deciding instead to stay in her apartment building alone during the storm.

The next day, Melissa was panicked about being unable to reach Renee, so she returned to Renee’s community and was dismayed by what she found.  “There was sand in the streets, water and sewage everywhere,” she said.  “I had to show my Gurwin badge just to get over the bridge.  The police didn’t want to let me in, but I told them I had to go, I had to take care of my patient.”  She found Renee and her dog, Sadie, alone and frightened in the dark.  Even though she had her own family to tend to, Melissa stayed with Renee.

When FEMA and apartment management ordered evacuation several days later, an animal rescue team was to take Sadie until they could be reunited.  “This was just too much for her,” Melissa said.  “I didn’t want to, but I took the dog.”

Renee went to live with her cousin for several months, while her apartment was being repaired from the storm damage.  Melissa drove each day to be with her, even though the distance was an additional 30 miles each way.  But it never occurred to her to give up the case, because Renee was family.  Renee credited Melissa with saving her life.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Melissa showed up in the morning for her shift with Renee, and found her friend deceased.  She was heartbroken.  “I cried like it was my own mom who passed,” Melissa said, choking up as she remembered that day.  “She was my family for so many years; on her birthday, my kids would come see her…I miss her so much.”

Melissa doesn’t think that her story is remarkable.  She met someone who she learned to love, and she feels she was lucky to have been on the same case for so long.  “I did my job to the best of my ability, but at some point it stops being a job.  Home Health Aides are the ones who are with people when they’re sick, when they’re scared, sometimes when they’re dying.  We’re the ones the family members lean on to care while they can’t.  It’s a job for someone with a big heart; if you don’t have a heart, this is not a job for you.”

Gurwin Home Care Agency is lucky to have Melissa Gary as a member of our caring team.  And her next patient is lucky, as well.