In what became her final words to her family back in the United States, 74-year-old Lorraine Montenegro smiled and reassured her family that eight days after Hurricane Maria struck the island of Puerto Rico, she was OK.
That comfort of seeing their mother faded away as word arrived to her family in the Bronx that Montenegro had been hospitalized. She'd suffered from respiratory distress and dehydration. Just four days after her family received a video message over Facebook, Montenegro passed away.
“It’s disbelief. It’s devastating. It’s a feeling of helplessness because you want to be by your mother’s side and I wasn’t able to do that and nobody in the family was able to do that. In a sense she died by herself,” said Joe Conzo, Jr., Montenegro’s eldest son.
Montenegro had only planned to be in Puerto Rico for two weeks, but was trapped in her home in Carolina after the hurricane.
She spent most of her life in the Bronx. Montenegro and her mother, Dr. Evelina Antonetty, fought for Bronx residents and created United Bronx Parents, a social service agency. Their advocacy work and activism work was so important to the borough that a portion of Prospect Avenue was named after Montenegro’s mother and across the street, a new shelter for women and children now bears the name 'Lorraine Montenegro'.
In her final moments, however, her family says the woman who fought for so many never received the basic care she deserved.
"We're Americans also," her son said. "This is not supposed to happen."