At Holy Name Medical Center, a Bergen County man known simply as Louie was surrounded by those who cared for him while he battled COVID-19 from his hospital bed in the final hours of his life.
Those who were there took turns holding his hand, comforting him while doing everything possible to make Louie as happy as they could, making sure he was not alone.
Only those were not Louie's relatives. They were the nurses who took care of him, the people who got to know the coronavirus patient's humor and love of life — forming an everlasting connection to a man they only knew for his last week. They grew attached to the man who had no family, and would have been facing the devastating virus alone had it not been for these members of the nursing staff.
Every time nurse Julie Falasca came to work recently she'd ask how Louie was doing, and she said it "broke my heart" when she learned he had died.
"Someone said, 'Julie, this doesn't look right.' So we went over and came in and we said Louie, you're not alone. We're here for you," Falasca said, having to fight back tears as she talked with NBC New York. The tender moments the nursing staff had with Louie were captured by a photographer and since posted to Holy Name's Facebook page.
Louie squeezed the nurses' hands from time to time as he held on against the disease that has claimed tens of thousands of lives across the country and in the tri-state alone. One by one One nurse held an iPad so Louie's caregiver of 20 years could say goodbye to him, the closest thing he had to a family.
"I felt fortunate to be there, that someone could be there for him, stand-in family member I guess," said Matt Kestelnik. "I know I would want that."
"There's not much more we can do but we can do what the human part of us teaches us to do and that's comfort and support," said Nurse Supervisor Marilyn Monzon.
Comfort and support — something the staff at the Teaneck center has had to do lot of since March, with the hospital located in New Jersey's first epicenter. The emotional, heart-wrenching moments of hand-holding and stroking the hair of a dying man shows the compassion of caregivers that has been exemplified time and time again during the pandemic.
For hours, different staff members came in to hold Louie's hand, according to the hospital. Even the photographer capturing it all put his camera down at one point to be there for him.
"I'm glad I was there when he took his last breath, the he knew we loved him. And we did," Falasca said.
In it's Facebook post, Holy Name ended the tribute by saying "When you are hurting, we are hurting. Caring isn’t a job or a career. It’s a calling. Today we remember Louie."