Hurricane Sandy and its storm surge displaced thousands of Atlantic County residents from their homes. Patricia Meers, of Absecon, was spared the worst.
Yet, while many remained in their homes through the storm for fear of its high winds and rains, Meers left comfort and safety to ensure those two things for another.
Meers, who serves as a caregiver with Comfort Keepers, an in-home senior care agency, didn't let Sandy stop her from giving care to client Grace Martin, who lives in the Health Center at Galloway, a rehabilitation center.
"I live in Absecon. Where I live was high and dry," Meers said. "I said, 'I'm not going to let a little rain stop me, because Grace needs me.'"
Martin, at 100 years old, has as sharp a mind as ever, but her body is frail. She can only hear out of her right ear, is mostly blind and has weak limbs. Still, the centenarian lived alone until a few months ago, when medical concerns left her in a wheelchair and unable to care for herself.
She has lived in the Health Center since September and has had a difficult time adapting to her new environment. The center's director of social work, Suzanne Sterling Bowen, contacted Comfort Keepers shortly after Martin's arrival to help alleviate her stress, and so far, the personal care has made a big difference.
While Meers' means are decidedly earthly, Martin says her helper comes from another plane.
"She's wonderful," Martin said. "She is an angel sent from the gods, that's all I can say."
As a Comfort Keeper, Meers spends eight hours per day with Martin five days per week, tending to her. As a resident of the Health Center, Martin's medical needs are mostly addressed by the staff, leaving Meers as more of a companion - and a friend.
In the just less than two months they've been together, they've become close, Meers said.
"She is a hoot, she is," Meers said. "She's so funny. She does have a good mind. She can remember things from years ago; she sings songs, she loves waltzes, and she's just ... she's a character, and she's got so much in her head, and it's just such a pleasure to listen to her."
Martin lived alone in her Galloway Township home for four decades before she moved into the Health Center. Her husband and two sisters have long since died, and she has no children.
Nicholas Frontuto moved next-door to Martin in 1973, and had been a casual acquaintance and helper, giving friendly waves or clearing the sidewalk after a snowstorm, but he was hardly close with Martin until she began weakening in September.
Frontuto, like Meers, kept Martin company during the storm, and visits often. He said he finds Martin's circumstances to be remarkable.
"She's an amazing person," Frontuto said. "I don't think I've ever met anybody, I don't think I've ever talked to anybody 100 years old before, and she's still sharp as a tack."
Comfort Keepers is an international caregiving company that specializes in providing personal, one-on-one care for seniors. Kelly and Lou Marrero, of Barnegat Township, opened a franchise in Galloway on Aug. 1. For more information on Atlantic County Comfort Keepers, visit comfortkeepers.com/office-917 or call 609-277-7855.
Contact Braden Campbell: