Pamela Orlando was a hero.
She was a hero to her sons, 23 and 16, whom she raised after their father left their lives when they were young. She was a hero to her sisters, a friend and guide who always made them laugh. She was a hero to her mother, always looking out for family.
She was a hero to hundreds of people whose lives she saved during her 30-year nursing career.
She was a hero when she rushed to fight COVID-19 as an emergency room nurse at The Valley Hospital.
Orlando, 56, died April 16 at Valley from coronavirus complications. But she lived with strength, courage and — as her family says — joyous laughter.
At The Valley Hospital, where she worked for a dozen years, she won the DAISY Award, an international honor for extraordinary nurses. At Lincoln Tech, where she taught nursing, she was a beloved mentor.
Sundays were big for the Orlando family, of New City, in Rockland County, New York.
Orlando cooked all day for friends and family, said her mother, Ann Orlando. Anyone who needed a meal was welcome. She never forgot to invite her mother for dinner.
“It was a free fall of Italian food,” said Jennifer Orlando Armida, Orlando’s younger sister. “Everybody would come over to eat her sauce and pasta."
She worked long hours — at least 60 a week for as long as her sons can remember — and three jobs to keep food on the table. She never complained.
Orlando was a nurse from the time she was 24, Armida said, but her family called her Dr. Orlando. She was the go-to for medical advice for friends and family far and wide, the one who always seemed to have an answer for medical calamities that befell those around her.
“She was always saving somebody’s life,” Ann Orlando said. “She saved my life quite a few times.”
“That was my mother’s life, was saving lives,” said Reid Orlando, her older son. “She was very humble. She didn’t want any attention. She just did all the right things.”
Orlando's niece was born with a cleft lip and palate, and Orlando made the hourlong trip to NYU Medical Center a dozen times to be there for her surgeries.
Once, when an old friend had Lyme disease, Orlando went to the friend’s house nearly every day for a month to help.
After she died, stories poured in from people whose lives or relatives’ lives Orlando saved.
“Everyone would call Pam,” Armida said. “You have a question? You have a cut? She would be the one to call. She would be the one to come running.”
Orlando suffered, too, as early as age 10, when her father died.
“We were like two peas in a pod trying to navigate life without my father,” said Annette Orlando, Pamela Orlando’s older sister.
The Orlando sisters grew up on a small farm. Their grandfather had purchased land in Rockland County, where their tight-knit Italian family kept horses, rabbits, chickens, donkeys and a garden.
“She basically raised me,” Armida said. “She took care of me. She was always there for me.”
Orlando lived through domestic violence. She, along with her mother and sisters, was a breast cancer survivor.
But even chemotherapy couldn’t keep her from her sons’ sporting events, and she went back to work shortly after finishing treatment, Reid Orlando said.
“I have never seen her cry once in my life,” Ryan Orlando said. “She was composed. She really knew how to take care of me and my brother.”
But despite what her family describes as “a lot of sadness in her life,” nothing kept Orlando down.
Everyone gravitated toward her larger-than-life personality and infectious laugh. She knew how to make people feel special, how to bring out the best in everyone, those close to her said.
“If she saw something in you, she would tell you,” Reid Orlando said. “She wanted to let you know that you were important.”
And she would do anything for her boys.
Orlando put Reid through college and made sure Ryan got into a good high school. She pulled out all the stops for vacations.
“After she had cancer and she beat it, we all took a trip to Disney,” Ryan Orlando said. “We stayed an extra week.”
She brought their friends in, too, taking in kids whose parents died and welcoming them as her own.
“It was just a beautiful relationship to see the three of them together,” Ann Orlando said. “She never went anywhere without them."
To the people around her, Pamela Orlando was everything.
“She gave me and my brother the best possible life ever. She was hard on us because she wanted us to be the best possible men that we could be,” Reid Orlando said.
“I believe that my mother’s purpose is bigger than life on this earth,” he added. “My mother went out as a hero.”