Sisters in their 90s reunite a year after COVID forced them apart

·4 min read

A surprise awaited Irma Adoranti and Lita Heinbecker in the second-floor solarium of their seniors’ home Thursday afternoon.

A white tablecloth covered a small roundtable in the room. Atop it sat a cake with a heart containing two words: “Sisters forever.”

After more than a year apart, Adoranti and Heinbecker reunited this week at the Village of Wentworth Heights, a home where they both now reside. The last time the sisters saw each other was when they rang in Heinbecker’s 90th birthday in the facility’s restaurant upstairs on Feb. 26, 2020.

Adoranti, 94, recently moved back into the Upper Wentworth Street home after many months on a wait list. Heinbecker, 91, has lived there since 2019, but COVID-19 stopped her sister from visiting since March.

On Thursday, the home threw a surprise reunion party for the two women.

“They were just in awe,” said Sandra Spallacci, Heinbecker’s daughter from Ancaster. “They couldn’t stop staring at each other.”

The sisters first moved into the retirement home together four years ago, but their stay was cut short by health challenges.

After Heinbecker’s husband died in 2015, she and Adoranti — who was already living alone — moved into the Village together. They shared a 1,500-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment with panoramic views in an independent living section of the home.

Both family and the Village’s staff say Adoranti and Heinbecker were always close and quickly became part of the home’s fabric.

Known by staff and residents as “The Sisters,” Adoranti and Heinbecker were always there to strike up a conversation or help other residents, says Branka Urosevic, the home’s director of lifestyle options.

“When they would walk in, it would almost take 15 to 20 minutes for them to be seated for a meal because they would stop and talk to every single table,” she said. “They were like superstars.”

But about a year and a half into their stay, Heinbecker had a fall that landed her in hospital. After discharge, she moved out and lived with her son near McMaster University to recuperate.

The apartment became too lonely for Adoranti to live in by herself, so she too left and moved in with her son in Stoney Creek.

After Heinbecker recovered a few months later, she moved back to the Village to access more care and be surrounded by others her age. Adoranti still lived with her son but visited her sister every week with her family after trips to the hairdresser. The family cherished that time.

“We had a lot of laughs,” said Lori Maggio, Adoranti’s daughter who lives in Caledonia.

Eventually, Adoranti’s health deteriorated and she too needed more care. The family hoped she could move back to the Village to be with her sister. In late 2019, they put her on a wait list for a room in the memory care unit.

But the following March, COVID hit, cutting off Adoranti’s visits with her sister. Though the sisters spoke on the phone, her family says it wasn’t the same.

“It was awful,” Maggio said. “We’d come out of the hairdresser’s and she’d say, ‘Are we going to see Lita?’”

Over the year, the home had multiple outbreaks, with both staff and residents getting sick and some residents died. The most recent outbreak was declared over on Jan. 21. Heinbecker came out safe.

Finally, this month, a room opened up.

Adoranti moved in on April 5. She was in quarantine for two weeks, which ended on April 19.

“The minute she was out of that isolation period, they ended up seeing each other,” Urosevic said.

She and her staff planned a party with Maggio and Spallacci to celebrate the reunion. They decorated the solarium with balloons and got each of the sisters flowers.

“To now see them back together at this stage in their life, it is very touching,” Urosevic said.

Both sisters live in different “neighbourhoods” in the facility, and while the home offers distanced group dining, public health measures mean the sisters’ meals could be at different times and in different dining rooms, Urosevic said.

But just knowing the other is nearby makes a difference, the family says.

“If Mom had gone somewhere else, who knows when she would see her sister,” Maggio said. “To sit with each other and see each other was a relief for both of them.”

Though the families were overjoyed by the occasion, the sisters have some moments to look forward to yet in a post-COVID world.

“They wanted to hug so bad,” Spallacci said. “They had to restrain themselves.”

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator