Family health

A Legacy in Family Health Care

Four generations of women from the same family find meaning in caring for others.

Written by Melissa Bean Sterzick

Decades from now, anyone old enough to remember 2020 will have a pandemic story. For one Torrance family, the story is about how they bravely responded to the medical emergency unfolding around the world, in their community and in their own home.

grandmother LarecyDaneen 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 palliative care nurse, contracted COVID-19 after treatment for a broken back.

Daneen was part of the hospital’s transformation from normal, cautious operations to an intense environment of protocols and procedures designed specifically to isolate the virus. Madisyn had left college for spring break in March and had 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 the health field prepared them for the difficult days ahead. When Daneen was little, she went to work with her grandmother, Ruth Exley, who processed orders and supplies for a Los Angeles-area hospital. Daneen says she helped answer the phone and file the paperwork, then went home and played in the hospital with her friends.

Madisyn grew up watching her mother and grandmother help people and never thought of doing anything else. “From the moment she could speak, she wanted to be a nurse like a grandmother,” Daneen says. Madisyn started early, volunteering at Torrance Memorial for all four years of high school.

She wanted above all to become a nurse in the NICU. “I love babies and working with families too. It’s so great because you build a long-term connection,” she says.

When the family knew Toni would not recover from COVID-19, they made all possible arrangements as quickly as possible and brought her home. Daneen’s youngest daughter, Mikaela Larecy, joined Daneen and Madisyn to look after Toni themselves. Friends delivered PPE and the women created a clean room and sealed off the hallways of the house. Toni’s hospice nurse was a woman Toni had trained herself.

It was the early days of the pandemic, when the world was still learning how to prevent transmission and treat COVID-19. Daneen says none of them would do anything differently, but she and her husband, Michael, were afraid Madisyn and Mikaela’s lives were in danger.

Their know-how protected them. Toni had prepared them to take care of her and each other. She died on June 24, 2020, just after her 73rd birthday.

daneen larecyA few weeks after the death of her grandmother, Madisyn passed the National Council licensing exam. She began working at Torrance Memorial in the medical-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 position as a social worker, is watching a new phase of the pandemic evolve as months of isolation and stress have caused a rise in mental health issues. She is preparing to face this challenge as she has faced all the others.
“My mum and my grandmother always said, ‘You can make a difference. The world is a better place because you’re in it,'” she says.

Madisyn says her grandmother was always delighted that she became a nurse. She still wants to work in a NICU, 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 palliative care nurse, but now she understands.

“I can honor her with what I do now. I feel like I was able to give families something that I gave my grandmother. I know what to do. My mother and my grandmother mother taught me to take care of people,” she says.

The Larecy family can see the world slowly coming out of survival mode. It will be difficult to define the moment of the “normal” return, but they are sure that it is coming. “I don’t know what the ceremony is, but we start kissing again,” Daneen says.