STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — It was an emotional reunion, nearly a year in the making. Alexa Zuffante and Dorothy Ocera may seem like longtime friends but this is the first time they have met face to face.

What You Need To Know

  • Alexa Zuffante and Dorothy Ocera are still friends nearly a year after their chance meeting

  • They text daily and say they are like sisters now

  • Dorothy Ocera still keeps her mother-in-law's phone connected and charges it every few days

  • Staten Island University Hospital has since added special iPad stations so staff can help patients connect with their loved ones

"You are so short," Ocera said to Zuffante. "I thought you were so much taller."

Alexa Zuffante is a nurse at Staten Island University Hospital. One of her patients last year was Dorothy Ocera's mother-in-law, Carole.

As Carole Ocera lay dying from the Coronavirus, isolated from her family because of COVID-19 protocols, Zuffante held her hand and shared the moment with the Ocera family through FaceTime.

"I couldn't bear the thought of Carole dying alone," aid Dorothy Ocera said to Zuffante. "Carole had this fear of being alone. And that is why I immediately said 'can you hold her hand for me?' And I knew it was a time when no one really wanted to touch anyone. There were so many unknowns and I got that. You never hesitated."

But after Carole Ocera passed away her nurse continued talking with her daughter-in-law.

"I called her after hours. 'I know this is awkward but I took your number down, is everything OK?'" said Zuffante, referring to her calls to Dorothy Ocera. 

Over the ensuing months the two texted each other almost every day. One night, they stayed up until 3 a.m. to talk.

"I've been very alone and you are just always there," said Zuffante.

She lives by herself in a one-bedroom apartment. In November, she fell ill with COVID-19, and had to spend Thanksgiving away from her family. She says the isolation has taken a toll.

"Without a doubt there are going to be long-term effects on health care workers," said Zuffante. "If it is not anxiety, if it is not depression. If it is not PTSD. You don't understand what we see."

But as the pandemic has dragged on, the visible displays of support for health care workers have waned.

"I just feel like the first wave everyone was like 'you are a frontline hero. You are a hero. You are a hero.' And everybody was doing so much for the health care works, but this time around, here we are, still a year later and not much has changed. Not that we are forgotten. Now, it is just the norm," said Zuffante as Ocera chimed in at the end. 

Dorothy Ocera has given Zuffante one of her mother-in-law's cherished rosaries. And at their reunion, she showed Zuffante her mother-in-law's phone, which she keeps on and charges every few days.

"I feel like it is the only thing we really have left of her," said Dorothy Ocera.

While she lost her mother-in-law she has a new friend, a friend who once comforted and supported her.

"I'm scarred. Is this really normal? Will we ever be normal?" asked a tearful Zuffante.

It's a friend she can now comfort and support in return.