To the JetBlue Employees Who Dropped What They Were Doing to Help My Son

Dear Laurie, Steve and Tara,

We met on Valentine’s Day last year. You may not remember me, but I will never forget you. It was a Friday evening, and our paths crossed in Boston. I don’t know what I looked like on the outside, but I know how I felt on the inside. I was standing still with my hands over my face in a crowded airport contemplating my next move.

My son Sean was in his wheelchair next to me. I felt defeated, exhausted, frustrated and desperate. I don’t even know if I was crying, but I know I was shaking. No one seemed to care — that is, until Laurie saw me. All I remember is that I looked up and she was there. I don’t know what I said, but Laurie asked me to not move and told me she would be right back with help.

The next thing I remember is meeting Steve and Tara. I explained to the three of you that all I wanted to do was gain access to the family restroom so I could take care of my son. He was 13 years old at the time — too old to go into the female restroom with me. You assured me you would help me. You showed me you cared.

You listened to my story. I explained that Sean and I traveled with my father from Washington Dulles International Airpot in Dulles, Virginia, to Logan International Airport in Boston because Sean had a doctor appointment at Massachusetts General Hospital. We flew up and back in the same day, which makes for a long day for anyone. It’s an even longer day when you have multiple disabilities and require some accommodations most people take for granted.

Once we arrived at our departure gate, we learned that our flight was delayed. I scouted out all the restrooms I could find in the general area. There were several conveniently located men’s and women’s restrooms, but I couldn’t find a single family restroom. Sean stayed with my dad while I expanded my search. I got as far as two TSA agents, who were blocking doors to make sure if you left, you didn’t return. They begrudgingly gave me directions to a restroom within the secured area. I walked all the way back to the gate to get Sean and let my dad know what I was doing. He stayed with our belongings. I pushed Sean in his wheelchair all the way to this one inconveniently located family restroom. When we got there, an employee at a nearby retail store told me it had been locked for hours. I checked my flight’s status at the ticket counter and also asked the staff for help. A ticket agent made a phone call and then told me someone would meet me there with a key. I walked all the way back again, and no one ever arrived.

That’s when I headed back to the gate. I got halfway there and just stopped. I didn’t want to give up because it wasn’t fair to Sean. He shouldn’t have to sit in a wet diaper on an airplane simply because accommodations were not made for people who have disabilities.

One of you called for assistance, and all three of you walked with Sean and me back to the restroom. No one had ever showed up to open the door. You were willing to do just about anything. Most important, you showed Sean compassion and treated him with respect and dignity. Without hesitation, you all jumped into action. First you closed the women’s bathroom and allowed me to go in there alone with Sean. Laurie and Tara went into the bathroom while Steve stayed with me, and he didn’t allow anyone else in there. Once the restroom was cleared out, you told me to take as much time as I needed and that you would all wait outside.

At this point, I guess I appeared quite distraught because Tara asked me if I felt comfortable having her help me in the restroom. Normally, I would have said that was not necessary. This time I said yes. She came in and totally distracted Sean with water and play while I changed him. Then she washed his hands. She went so far beyond the call of duty, that I’m not even sure what you’d call it. All three of you then asked what you could do next. I told you I was fine and I couldn’t possibly express how much your help meant to me. The three of you truly cared about Sean and me.

My mind shifted to thoughts of my dad sitting at the gate wondering what happened to Sean and me.  I pulled out my phone and saw how many times he’d tried to reach me. You offered to page him. I immediately said “no” to that because I didn’t need to put my dad in full blown panic mode. Since I also didn’t know the status of my flight, I wanted to get back to the gate quickly.  The three of you walked Sean and me all the way back to my dad at the gate. Then you offered to take care of Sean while my dad and I ate dinner. I explained that I needed to feed Sean and all was well. I asked if we could store our belongings behind the ticket counter, but Tara insisted on staying with them while we had dinner. Tara also gave us a voucher for dinner, courtesy of JetBlue. This incident had absolutely nothing to do with JetBlue, yet the three of you took full responsibility. When we got back to the gate after eating, passengers had started to board. JetBlue insisted on stopping everything until my dad, Sean and I were on board. Tara escorted us all the way to our seats.

IMG_0517 The most frustrating experience turned into the most positive one. All three of you made a lasting impression on me, and I will forever be grateful. But it all started with you, Laurie. You could have easily walked past me like everyone else did, but you chose to stop. I would have never met Steve or Tara if it hadn’t been for you. I still wonder if I caused you, as part of the inflight crew, to miss a flight. If you were concerned about that happening, you never let me know. Tara asked my dad for his contact information, and she’s reached out to us a few times since then.

I told Tara that Sean’s next appointment was scheduled in September, and she followed up with me to let me know she wouldn’t be working that day, but she made arrangements for some else to assist us if needed. My dad was looking forward to seeing you all again, and knowing Dad, he’d do something extraordinary to express his gratitude. But our plans changed. My husband traveled with Sean and me because my dad was too sick to travel. Tara knows this, but she doesn’t know that my dad lost his short battle with cancer in December. In honor of my dad, I want to make sure you and your colleagues know what a difference you made in my life. I will remember Valentines Day 2014 forever. I was surrounded by love.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Ann Marie

IMG_0038 (1)

For all of February, The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

Want to end the stigma around disabilityLike us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Angelman Syndrome

author and her son smiling outside

What I Wish I Knew the Day My Son Was Diagnosed With Angelman Syndrome

February 7, 2001 Today is D-day. The day you will receive a diagnosis that will change your life forever. You will hear “Angelman syndrome” for the first time. The diagnosis will explain all of the challenges your firstborn has been facing — failure to thrive, ocular albinism and developmental delays. But there’s more. Your son [...]

Artist Takes Glamour Shots to Combat Stigma of Chronic Illness

Karolyn Gehrig, a Los Angeles-based artist, is the inspiring woman behind the hashtag #HospitalGlam. #HospitalGlam is a campaign Gehrig started to celebrate her body in the midst of the pain and uncertainty of her chronic illness. Via Instagram In 2003, Gehrig was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), a genetic connective tissue disorder characterized by joint problems [...]

My Son Says ‘Mama’ in a Different Way Than Most, and I Love It

Before I began my career as a nurse, I worked as a preschool teacher (and I still wanted children!). I said things like “use your walking feet,” and “teeth are for smiling and eating apples but not biting our friends.” My personal favorite was “use your words.” I find myself using similar sayings when speaking to my children and [...]

Dear Doctor Who Gave Us a Down Syndrome Diagnosis, This Is What You Should and Shouldn't Have Said

Dear Doctor, We tried for months to conceive, and we’re so thrilled to be pregnant again. Remember how excited I was at our first prenatal visit? Our 2-year-old daughter is going to be a big sister! My family and friends are so excited for us. I told everyone at work that I had the Panorama blood [...]