Nurses have been deemed heroes since the coronavirus pandemic began, and that description hit home with the Wolfson family, of Rockville Centre, after tragedy struck in November.
Denise Wolfson, 72, fell down the stairs in her home on Nov. 4 and sustained a traumatic brain injury. She spent two weeks in the surgical intensive care unit at NYU Langone Hospital in Mineola. Wolfson died on Nov. 18, but the care she received from the doctors and nurses inspired her family to set up a memorial fund to enhance the hospital’s lounge for the SICU nursing team.
“The term ‘heroes work here’ has a deeper and more valuable meaning,” Nicole Nadboy, Wolfson’s daughter, said of the family’s experience with the hospital’s nursing team. “We hope that setting up a fund can make a difference for people who are giving their all.”
The 14 days her mother spent fighting for her life were filled with pain, anger and confusion for members of her family, Nadboy said, but they were grateful for the support and care her mother, and they, received.
“When trying to think of a way to honor my mother’s memory, it kept coming back to the SICU unit, especially during this global pandemic,” Nadboy wrote in an email. “Nurses are on the front lines of Covid. They’re experiencing extreme stress, anxiety and exhaustion. As we head into winter, it will only get worse. There’s no doubt that these heroes will be stretched thin once again.”
She added that donations to the fund would create a nicer space for the nurses during their breaks. “We’re hopeful that setting up this fund will both help in our grieving process,” Nadboy wrote, “while also showing our gratitude to the dedicated nurses who cared for our mom, and the team lead by Dr. Gerard Baltazar, with Dr. Joo Lee, Liz Eberhart, Lindsay Beck and Joe Clerici, among many others.”
“We’re so appreciative of this gift to benefit our Surgical Intensive Care Unit,” Nicole Mascellaro, the hospital’s nurse manager, said. “We have a wonderful, caring staff who go above and beyond to connect with each and every patient, and it means a lot to know that we have truly touched the lives of those we care for.”
Wolfson, born Denise Michele deGrasse in Passaic, N.J., on Feb. 7, 1948, married Donald Wolfson, who grew up in Rockville Centre, on Sept. 7, 1969. The couple lived at several locations in the village before settling on Dogwood Lane in 1980. Denise was active in the National Council of Jewish Women and, as a breast cancer survivor, supported multiple charities focused on breast cancer research, with an emphasis on Play for Pink.
Nadboy, 44, and her sister, Brett diPretoro, 42, both residents of Plainview, described their mother as someone who made family a priority and went out of her way for her children.
“She hand-made the best Halloween costumes, made sure we went on great family vacations together,” diPretoro said, “and was at every sporting event her children and grandchildren participated in. The life lessons she taught us will always be with us.”
Wolfson also loved spending time with her four grandchildren, 12-year-old twins Ava and Dylan Nadboy and Luella and Cal diPretoro, ages 9 and 7. “Even though Covid has been so challenging for all of us, one light in this very dark tunnel is that her grandchildren didn’t end up going to sleepaway camp, so they spent many weekends hanging by the pool, laughing and eating with their grandmother,” Brett diPretoro wrote in an email. “She even came over in a snow ski suit one day covered head to toe (in 90 degree weather) so she could get tight squeeze hugs from everyone safely.”
“Denise loved being a mom,” Donald said. “She always put her family first. She was always smiling, had a contagious laugh, was always put together and was extremely polite. Denise was also a great artist and such a good friend to many people.”
Sue Cooper lived next door to the Wolfsons on Dogwood Lane from 1982 to 1996, and her two daughters were friends with Nadboy and diPretoro. “She spent a lot of time in my kitchen,” Cooper recalled. “Denise was really thoughtful, caring and supportive, one of those people who really listened when you talked and was interested in what you had to say.”
Wolfson also had an eye for design, Cooper said, which was reflected in her personal style. “She never seemed to age,” Cooper said, “and she was always put together in a refined manner.” Though Cooper moved to a different house in the village 24 years ago, the two kept in touch, either getting together or having “very long phone conversations.”
“I was heartbroken when she died,” Cooper said. “It’s hard to believe that could happen to someone who had so much life to live.”
Judy Hauser met Wolfson at a Mommy & Me class at the Rec Center when her son and Nadboy were 18 months old. The women developed a friendship that lasted 40 years, even after Hauser moved to Oyster Bay about 25 years ago. She and her husband, Joshua, regularly met the Wolfsons for dinner, and even created a dinner club with two other couples that lasted for several years. The Hausers and Wolfsons had an informal New Year’s Eve tradition of meeting for an early dinner if neither couple had plans. “We did that for many years,” Hauser recalled.
For Hauser, Wolfson was a friend she could count on, a friend who planned a surprise 40th birthday party, who made a point to attend backyard barbecues and who even traveled to California for her son’s wedding. “I was very touched that they came to his wedding,” Hauser said. “Not many people traveled from the Northeast.”
She had not seen Wolfson since before the pandemic, but said they spoke regularly. “I was heartbroken when I found out about the accident,” Hauser said.
Debbie Corhan met Wolfson at the Sands in Atlantic Beach about 40 years ago, and learned that they both lived in Rockville Centre. “She asked me for my address, and when I told her she said, ‘Oh, I looked at that house, but I liked mine better.’ And we still became friends.”
Another longtime friend, Joanne Setner, remembered that Wolfson’s go-to treat for cheering up friends were the dot cookies from Front Street Bakery. “She had a wonderful heart,” Setner said. “She was the type of person who would be there for you, someone you could count on for whatever you needed.”
Corhan and Setner both noted how much Wolfson loved to talk. “You couldn’t get her off the phone,” Setner laughed. “She was great to call when going for a walk . . . 45 minutes would pass like that. Even now, I go to call her and she’s not there. She’ll be really missed.”
In addition to her husband, daughters and grandchildren, Wolfson is survived by siblings Danielle Makris, Albert deGrasse and Theodore Betz, and two sons-in-law, Michael Nadboy and James diPretoro.
To make a contribution in her honor, go to https://nyulangone.org/give/fundraise/denisewolfson or mail a check to Lynn Drucker, NYU Winthrop Long Island, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, NYU Langone Health, 200 Old Country Road, Suite 570, Mineola, N.Y. 11501.
“Denise was young and healthy and should be here today,” Donald said. “We all miss her daily calls, long stories, her laugh and holding her hand. We would do anything for one more hug or kiss.”