Large bright eyes peered out from under the white gauze that covered Amanda Scarpinati’s tiny head. A nurse held her tight, tucking the three-month-old infant’s burned and bandaged head beneath her chin.
The photo of Scarpinati being swaddled by an unknown nurse at Albany Medical Center was published in the hospital’s annual report in 1977.
Decades had passed since Scarpinati was photographed in the hospital after a terrible accident involving a hot-steam humidifier. The woman in the nearly 40-year-old photo remained a mystery.
I’d look at those pictures and talk to her, even though I didn’t know who she was
The horrific accident that brought Scarpinati to the hospital happened at home. At three months old, she was sick and lying on the couch, salved with a mentholated ointment. She was left unattended and rolled off the couch and onto a steam vaporizer that was blowing on the floor, Scarpinati recalled on Facebook. The steam scalded her skin and melted a mentholated ointment, according to the Associated Press.
After years of surgeries, Scarpinati saw the image of the nurse as a reminder of the soothing care she received as an infant.
“Growing up as a child, disfigured by the burns, I was bullied and picked on, tormented,” Scarpinati, now 38, told the AP. “I’d look at those pictures and talk to her, even though I didn’t know who she was. I took comfort looking at this woman who seemed so sincere caring for me.”
Nearly 20 years later, Scarpinati made her first attempt to find the unknown woman, but had no luck.
Decades went by.
Scarpinati decided to try again– this time using Facebook.
She posted a short message earlier this month with a simple plea:
“I would love to know her name and possibly get a chance to talk to her and meet her,” Scarpinati wrote. “Please share as you never know who it could reach.”
More than 1,000 people shared the message on Facebook and finally someone responded with a lead.
Angela Leary, another nurse at the Albany hospital, recognized the woman holding the baby. Leary hadn’t spoken to Susan Berger in 35 years, but she immediately identified her from the photos.
“She was as sweet and caring as she looks in this picture,” Leary wrote in her message to Scarpinati. “She loved her job and caring for children and adults alike.”
Leary passed on Berger’s information to a local news station, which tracked her down. Days later, Scarpinati spoke to Berger on the phone.
“In a million years I would have never guessed this would grow to be as big as it is or that I would in fact be able to put a name to the face that I looked at for all these years,” Scarpinati wrote on Facebook. “She’s just as sweet and caring as I could have imagined her to be.”
Back in 1977, Berger was 21, a recent college graduate who had just arrived at the pediatric recovery room at the Albany Medical Center.
“I remember her,” Berger told the AP. “She was very peaceful. Usually when babies come out of surgery they’re sleeping or crying. She was just so calm and trusting. It was amazing.”
The reunion all these year later was a pleasant surprise for Berger, who is now the Executive Vice President of Cazenovia College in New York. According to Scarpinati, Berger told her that she too had carried around the image for years — never knowing what had happened to the little girl.
“I don’t know how many nurses would be lucky enough to have something like this happen, to have someone remember you all that time,” Berger told the AP. “I feel privileged to be the one to represent all the nurses who cared for her over the years.”
The two are expected to be reunited in person on Tuesday.
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