The word “hero” is carelessly thrown around a lot these days, but the actions of one local correction officer have made him truly worthy of such a title.
According to the New York Daily News, 32-year-old correction officer Daniel Leites was walking near the Queens Center mall on Monday night when he noticed an older woman walking aimlessly and became worried about her well-being.
He casually followed 59-year-old Joanne Velasquez for about two blocks before she suddenly stopped and stepped into oncoming traffic on Elliot St.
Leites sprung into action upon seeing her in danger, pushing her away from a moving SUV mere seconds before it struck her. In fact, the vehicle grazed Leites’s side, knocking him to the ground on top of Velasquez.
“I was in a little stunned phase,” Leites said. “But we are trained for high pressure situations. It’s mostly about acting and thinking later.”
After bringing Velasquez to a nearby sidewalk, Leites attempted to get some information from her so he could notify friends and family that she was OK. The woman was extremely disoriented, failing to remember even the simplest of details.
“She also didn’t know her name or the president of the United States,” Leites said. “I was looking for any contact information that I could find to reunite her with her loved ones.”
The incident is a numbing reminder of how badly Alzheimer’s affects the lives of those who suffer from it. Just recently, Gov. Cuomo took initiative to provide additional care from Alzheimer’s patients as part of an ambitious effort to support families dealing with the degenerative condition.
According to local Albany news affiliate WGRZ, New York has passed legislation to spend over $67 million that will be divided among nine different organizations, creating a litany of programs to help family caregivers.
In 2010 alone, the costs of Alzheimer’s disease fell between $159 and $215 billion. That number continues to grow as treatments advance and become more expensive, so caregivers and patients alike are rejoicing at the news of this increased funding.
In the case of Leites and Velasquez, the correction officer eventually noticed a medical bracelet the woman was wearing that signified her condition and provided contact information for her caregivers. He bought her a cheeseburger before returning her home to her sister, Maria Giacalone, who could not heap enough praise on the fast-thinking officer.
“He saved her life,” said Giacalone. “We still live in a great place. You forget that sometimes with all the stuff going on.”
Amidst the global turmoil that continues to shake the world to its core, it’s a welcome reprieve to hear the story of a real-life hero.