Social Network Reunites Burn Victim With Nurse

Sep 30, 2015

Pope Francis proclaimed the internet was a gift from God. Amanda Scarpinati might just be inclined to agree with that.  Scarpinati's four-decade search for a nurse who cared for her as an infant burn victim came to fruition in a matter of hours days, thanks to social media...

In the mid 1970s, when she was 3 months old, Scarpinati rolled off a couch, falling on a hot-steam humidifier.  Baby Amanda was brought up to the Albany Medical Center burn unit from her home in Athens, Greene County, for treatment as she recovered from third-degree burns.

During her stay, a photographer snapped several pictures of her in the arms of a young nurse. The photos appeared in a medical center report. Scarpinati somehow obtained a copy it and kept it  for some 37 years.

Scarpinati says looking at those pictures gave her something to hold dear, instilling hope and courage as she grew up bullied because she'd been disfigured by those awful burns — no longer the case following surgeries.

Scarpinati tried to find out who her caregiver was some 20 years ago, with no luck. Then, an idea: social media. She took a chance, and...  "...it blew up! I was shocked, the amount of shares it got, I mean, 'cause I just posted it on my Facebook, I was like, maybe 20 people will share it, maybe. Within 12 hours it just exploded, and it was posted on a local news station, and from there it just grew."

Within hours of posting her story and the old photos on September 16th, the big break came: a woman named Angela Leary, an RN who filled in the missing details.  "I happened to see the picture. I knew the nurse. And I was able to give the adult baby, the baby in the picture, a name. And that was such a pleasure for me to be able to do that."

Susan Berger was the nurse in the photos.  Berger today oversees the health center at Cazenovia College in New York's Finger Lakes region. Scarpinati says the initial reconnection came via cell phone. "It was very surreal. I was driving actually when I got to talk to her and her voice matched her picture. Just a sweet-sounding um... and I just couldn't believe I had a name to go with that face that I'd had for so many years, and knowing she's real. She's really there you know, I'm talking to her, she exists, and now I'm getting a chance to meet her? Dream come true!"

And when they met face to face Tuesday at Albany Med, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Cameras clicked. The two women hugged.  The small mic Scarpinati wore for the press conference detected one excited, happy heartbeat.  "I'm just so full of emotion, ummm... I don't even know how to put it into words, it was amazing to actually see her and thank her and hug her."

Berger too could hardly wait to meet the baby, grown up and in-person.  "I had seen the photos and the press releases, and she's gorgeous. Obviously she'd faced adversity in her childhood and certainly we should say to all of those who bullied and picked on her, look now, look at her now. Nonetheless I have no doubt I'll get to know the beautiful person inside there too!" [Amanda "Absolutely!"]

Jim Barba is President and CEO of Albany Medical Center:  "There are plenty of sad moments at a medical center like this, a tertiary, quaternary care provider. When I attend an event like today's, it grounds me again, it reminds me that miracles do happen her every single day. Obviously a miracle happened in 1977. Secondly, that we are bout the care of children. Our job is to first save them, as was the case here. Then to restore them to good health, then to send them on their way so they can lead useful, productive lives, as adolescents, and then as adults. And that's again, exactly what happened here.":

Scarpinati appreciates the care she received during her stay at Albany Med. "Thank the nurses, thank the CNAs, the aides, they keep it going. They are there for the patients, and I think maybe they're a little underappreciated."

Dave Lucas: "Your advice to others looking for lost folks in photographs is..."

Amanda: "facebook!" (laughs)