By: Stefanie Arcangelo and Jocelyn Hillard, American Red Cross
At 103, Jean Wells had lived a full life with a focus on service. A United States Coast Guard veteran, Jean served during WWII helping the war effort with secretarial duties. Many decades later, she continued serving her country as an American Red Cross volunteer with the former Westport Chapter. As a Red Cross volunteer for many years, Jean visited fellow veterans at the VA hospital and even helped to deliver lifesaving blood. After spending her life giving to others, she never expected that she would be the one who needed help.
When Tropical Storm Isaias made landfall in Connecticut on August 4, 2020, Jean Wells and her caregiver, Simone Neri were sheltering in place at their Westport, Connecticut home. Fortunately, their home did not sustain any major damage, however, Isaias brought wide-spread power outages across the state and Jean and Simone were left without power.
Jean and Simone fared well without power, but after six days in the August heat and humidity without air conditioning, things took a turn. As the summer heat continued to rise, so did Jean’s temperature. As a caregiver, Simone knew that if Jean’s temperature went too high, at the age of 103, that would mean a trip to the hospital. Unfortunately, a trip to the hospital, in the middle of a global pandemic, would almost certainly spell disaster for Jean. Simone decided to call the Red Cross to see if they could help, “The only other choice was to call 911. And I didn’t want to do that to her,” said Simone.
The Red Cross, in partnership with the City of Westport, was able to provide Jean and Simone with a hotel room while they waited for their power to be restored. Once in the air-conditioned hotel room, Jean’s temperature stabilized. In addition, Red Cross volunteer nurse and Regional Health Services Lead, Donna Hathaway was able to help advise Simone on any health-related needs that arose for Jean. Donna and Red Crosser Susan Shaw called multiple times per day to check in on Jean and to help and support.
When asked how she knew to call the Red Cross, Simone said, “Jean always talked so much about the Red Cross and I did some work with the Red Cross years back. I just always knew you were always so wonderful and just, I was so humbled by the great work that you did and when we were not getting calls back, that’s what came up in my heart to call and that night we were in a hotel.”
After about four days, Jean and Simone were able to safely return home. Jean was most excited to be reunited with her beloved rescue cat, Myra. A few weeks after Jean and Simone returned home, Jocelyn Hillard, Interim Chief Communications Officer for the American Red Cross in Connecticut and Rhode Island visited Jean and Simone to hear their story first-hand and to present them both with Red Cross regional challenge coins and to present Jean with a special military challenge coin to thank her for her service.
The Red Cross was not only able to help Jean and Simone, but also able to help more than 100 people whose homes became unlivable due to Tropical Storm Isaias or who could be medically compromised due to the long-duration power outage.
After a lifetime of service, Jean was incredibly grateful for the help and support she received from the Red Cross. “I can’t thank you all for all that you do,” Jean said. “It’s wonderful to know you are there and you do this and that you are just so kind.”
To learn how you can support the work of the Red Cross in times of disaster or year-round, visit RedCross.org.
Updated on October 22, 2020 to note that hotel lodging for Jean and Simone was provided in partnership with the City of Westport.