On April 10, long-time Freeport resident Menina Fedullo, 84, was diagnosed with the coronavirus and taken to NYU Winthrop Hospital, in Mineola, where she died 12 days later.
Fedullo’s daughter, Maria Franzone, of Melville, said the situation had been difficult for her family, especially since they were not allowed to visit or comfort her directly. Despite the hardship, Franzone said the family had been blessed by the aid of the staff at Winthrop, as one of the nurses, Erika Dzurilla, used her own cell phone to help connect Franzone with her mother.
“She was even sweet enough to download the Whatsapp [app] so my sisters and I could facetime with her one last time,” Franzone said.
To repay the staff at Winthrop, and to make sure other families could stay connected with patients inside the hospital, Franzone and her sisters, Anna Sabel and Liz Donegan, along with her sons, Kieran and Conor, kicked off a GoFundMe page to purchase iPads for the hospital. As of May 12, the Franzones have raised more than $7,600 and delivered 20 iPads to Winthrop.
"In the face of forced separation due to Covid-19, the family connection was missing for many patients," said Dr. Alka Nischal, a Geriatrician at Winthrop who oversaw Fedullo. “It’s inspiring to see a family turn loss into such a positive act that can help others."
Franzone said the idea to purchase the iPads came from the conversation she had with Nischal.
After Fedullo’s death, Franzone had asked Nischal if there was anything she could do to help the hospital, and Nischal explained that the hospital could use more communication devices to help patients speak with their family members.
Franzone recalled how she could not initially connect with her mother once Fedullo was admitted at Winthrop, as the hospital only had about one iPad per floor for patients to use at the time.
It was during the early days of her mother’s stay at Winthrop that Dzurilla, 22, contacted Franzone, and told her that she and other nurses were using their own phones to help their patients speak with family members. Through Dzurilla, Franzone received regular updates on her mother’s condition through calls and text.
“We were able to get an update on my mother every day because of Erika,” Franzone said. “I always pictured her as an older nurse, so i was surprised to find out that she was only 22-years-old and six months into her job. She was young, but just so caring.”
During her mother’s last days, Franzone learned that Dzurilla and fellow nurse Samantha Kutner, along with Nischal, stayed up with Fedullo until her death.
“Everyone tried so hard to allow my mother to pass with as much dignity as possible,” Franzone said. “We really couldn’t have asked for better people for my mother to be with.”
The following day, Franzone had reached out to her ex-husband, Patrick Franzone, a Freeport Police detective who serves as president of Toys for Freeport Tots. He helped connect Franzone with the P.C. Richards in Bellmore, where they were able to purchase the bundle of iPads.
“It’s really amazing what they’re doing to help comfort others who are in the situation they were in,” Patrick said.
While the “iPads for Winthrop Hospital” GoFundMe page had originally set the goal for $2,800, donors quickly flooded the page with contributions to more than that amount. Franzone said she was amazed by people’s donations and said she would keep the page going in hopes of delivering more iPads to the hospital.
“There would have been no other way to talk to my mother if it wasn’t for what Erika did,” Franzone said. “We got to say goodbye. Hopefully, these iPads will help others just as much.”
To donate to “iPads for Winthrop Hospital,” visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/MeninaFedullo.