LIJ nurses give dying mom gift of son’s visit

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Patricia Farrell, Laqueta Robbins and the nurses on Long Island Jewish Medical Center’s eighth floor were not sure they could find Adelaida Figueroa’s only son, U.S. Navy Airman Fabian Arias, let alone get him back to Queens to visit his terminally ill mother for Christmas.

But they were not going to let what might seem like insurmountable odds stand in the way of finding and uniting a dying mother with her only son. The hitch was Arias, 34, was on a six-month tour of the Indian Ocean and stationed on the U.S. Carl Vinson.

“It is awesome,” Arias said, describing what the staff at LIJ had done for him. “I can’t find the words. It is very special. I can’t stop saying thank you for everything.”

The Hollis resident, whose father died many years ago, said the last time he saw his mother was at the end of June right before he shoved off on his six-month rotation. At the time Arias headed out on his tour, his mother’s condition was terminal but she was considered stable.

“It started when we were doing patient care rounds and we began discussing her case,” said Farrell, a nurse on the eighth floor. Farrell and Robbins, a hospital social worker, at the Glen Oaks Hospital were concerned about Figueroa’s prognosis.

Robbins said she had talked to Figueroa’s doctor, who had told her about his patient’s son, who was in the Navy stationed off Pakistan. Getting in touch with him was difficult. Figueroa’s only contact information for her son was an American Red Cross card.

Figueroa, 54, who immigrated to the United States from Colombia, lives in Hollis and suffers from metastasized breast cancer.

“We got in touch with the Red Cross to see if we could get him home,” Farrell said. “The Red Cross told us they could get in touch with him, but they did not know how long it would take.”

Facing an apparent dead-end at the Red Cross, Farrell e-mailed her cousin who was also in the Navy and explained the situation. She said he forwarded it up the chain of command and between 48 hours and 72 hours later it all “materializ­ed.” Arias was back in Queens the Saturday before Christmas.

Arias said he did not know when his mother’s health had taken a turn for the worse and was not contacted until the staff at LIJ went on a mission to bring him home.

“The first time I heard anything was when my CO told me my mom was in the hospital and in bad condition,” he said.

Once Arias found out what was going on, it took about three hours for all of the paperwork to get the proper validation and for him to begin his 38-to-40 hour voyage back to Queens.

“When she saw me on the Saturday, she started screaming and crying ‘here is my son,’” he said. “Then I gave her a kiss.”

At the moment, he said his mother is doing better and has been transferred to the Margaret Tietz Center for Nursing Care in Jamaica. He is on a 30-day leave from his unit to spend time with her, then he will be stationed at Virginia Beach with his unit. From there, he said, he can monitor the situation and visit on weekends.

“I am happy to be with my mom, but I miss the guys in my unit, Arias said. “Right now I am trying to be strong for my mother.”

Mary Anne Cipolla, a nurse and case manager on the floor, said before Figueroa’s son arrived she was alone and looked very sad. But when he walked into her room, she said, Figueroa was overwhelmed with joy.

“It is the best thing we could have ever done,” Cipolla said. “We are thrilled. It makes what we do very important.”

Farrell said meeting Arias was very emotional for the LIJ staff and Figueroa was doing much better.

“It is important for a family to be together during the holidays,” Robbins said. “Both Patricia and I know what it is like to lose a mom and we tried our best to bring him back.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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