Written by Melissa Bean Sterzick
In decades, everyone old enough to remember 2020 will have a pandemic story. For a family in Torrance, the story is about how they bravely responded to the medical emergency unfolding around the world, in their community, and in their own home.
Daneen Larecy is a clinical social worker and her daughter Madisyn Larecy is a nurse. Both work for Torrance Memorial. In June 2020, they were already deeply involved in the fight against the virus when Daneen’s mother and Madisyn’s grandmother Toni Exley, a retired hospice nurse, contracted COVID-19 after treatment for a back fracture.
Daneen was part of the hospital’s transformation from normal and prudent operations into an intense environment of designed protocols and procedures
specifically to isolate the virus. Madisyn had left college for spring break in March and has not returned. At home, she studied for her nursing license exam and put on a cap and gown for a homemade graduation ceremony in her front yard.
The family tradition of four generations of working in health care has prepared them for the difficult days ahead. When Daneen was a small child, she would go to work with her grandmother, Ruth Exley, who handled orders and supplies for a Los Angeles area hospital. Daneen says she helped answer the phone and file the documents, then went home and played in the hospital with her friends.
Madisyn grew up watching her mother and grandmother helping people and never thought of doing anything else. âFrom the moment she could speak, she wanted to be a nurse like a grandmother,â Daneen says. Madisyn started early, volunteering at the Torrance Memorial for all four years of high school.
Above all, she wanted to become a nurse at the NICU. âI love babies and working with families too. It’s so great because you can make a long-term connection, âshe says.
When the family knew Toni would not recover from COVID-19, they made all arrangements as quickly as possible and brought her home. Daneen’s youngest daughter, Mikaela Larecy, joined Daneen and Madisyn to take care of Toni themselves. Friends delivered PPE and the women created a clean room and cordoned off the halls of the house. Toni’s hospice nurse was a woman Toni had trained herself.
It was the first days of the pandemic, when the world was still learning how to prevent transmission and treat COVID-19. Daneen says neither of them would do anything differently, but she and her husband, Michael, feared Madisyn and Mikaela’s lives were in danger.
Their expertise has protected them. Toni had prepared them to take care of her and each other. She passed away on June 24, 2020, just after her 73rd birthday.
A few weeks after the death of her grandmother, Madisyn passed the National Council licensing exam. She started working at the Torrance Memorial in the medico-surgical unit two months later. The department quickly became a COVID-19 unit. Instead of a slow transition, Madisyn immediately began caring for her own patients.
She now works with patients in a regular unit. Daneen, in her post as a social worker, watches a new phase of the pandemic unfold as months of isolation and stress have led to an increase in mental health problems. She is preparing for this challenge as she has faced all the others.
âMy mother and grandmother always said, ‘You can make a difference. The world is a better place because you are there, âshe said.
Madisyn says her grandmother has always been delighted that she becomes a nurse. She still wants to work in a neonatal intensive care unit, but the pandemic has taught her that she can treat any patient, including the elderly and the dying. She didn’t understand how her grandmother could be a hospice nurse, but now she does.
âI can honor her with what I do now. I feel like I was able to give families something that I gave to my grandmother. I know what to do. My mother and grandmother taught me to take care of people, âshe says.
The Larecy family can watch the world slowly come out of survival mode. It will be difficult to define the time of the ânormalâ return, but they are sure it will happen. âI don’t know what the ceremony is, but we’re starting to kiss again,â Daneen says.