Airport angel, airline help unite daughter with dying mom

Left to right: Laura Genovich with her mother and father on her wedding day. (Courtesy: Laura Genovich)


CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A story of generosity at Gerald R. Ford International Airport is going viral.

The day before Thanksgiving, Laura Genovich got a call saying that her mom had a stroke.

Genovich lives in Grand Rapids while her parents live in Florida.

In a blog, Genovich wrote that at first, they didn’t know how bad her mom’s condition was; she had been talking to the nurses by phone every few hours.

Laura Genovich's mother and father. (Courtesy: Laura Genovich)
Laura Genovich’s mother and father. (Courtesy: Laura Genovich)

Friday morning when the nurse told her that her mom might never wake up, Genovich knew she had to make it down to Florida.

“That was the first moment I realized how bad it was,” Genovich said.

Within 30 minutes of talking with the nurse, Genovich packed up her 3-month-old baby Audrey and had her husband and two older children drop them off at the airport. She got a ticket and boarded an American Airlines flight to Orlando with a layover in Chicago.

That is when things started to take a turn.

Lisa Genovich and her infant daughter, Audrey. (Courtesy Lisa Genovich)
Lisa Genovich and her infant daughter, Audrey. (Courtesy Lisa Genovich)

After taking her seat on the plane, Genovich was told the aircraft needed maintenance. Genovich said she spent the entire time waiting to take off on the phone with relatives, talking to them about her mom’s health and the fact that she probably was not going to make it to Florida.

After sitting there for an hour, the crew announced the plane was grounded for repairs.

“I just broke down and started crying because I need to be there. I needed to get there as soon as possible. My dad was alone down there. We don’t have other family down there and I had to get there as soon as I could,” Genovich said.

When Genovich got off the phone, an airport angel stepped in.

In the seat in front of her, a woman turned around and said, “My name is Mary. I’ve been listening to you for the last hour, and I’ve been praying for you and your family. I am not leaving your side until you are on a plane to Orlando,” Genovich recounted.

Genovich said her husband found a new flight aboard Southwest, scheduled to leave for Orlando at 12:15 p.m. By the time Genovich got off her American Airlines flight, it was 11:55 a.m. and there was Mary, waiting for her.

“When I got to the end of the jet way Mary was waiting for me, all the other passengers were in line to rebook their tickets and she was right there and she did not leave my side,” said Genovich.

Genovich flagged down an American Airlines agent and told her she needed to get on the Southwest Airlines flight. The agent informed her they couldn’t transfer the ticket because they didn’t have a contract with Southwest and there was no way they would reach the flight in time.

Mary and Laura ran to the plane’s gate. When the women got there, the gate area was empty except for a Southwest Airlines gate agent named Gayle Mutchler.

Laura Genovich's mom, who had a stroke the day before Thanksgiving. (Courtesy: Laura Genovich)
Laura Genovich’s mom, who had a stroke the day before Thanksgiving. (Courtesy: Laura Genovich)

Genovich wrote that with tears streaming down her face, she told Mutchler her situation and asked if the flight was closed.

Gayle told Genovich she could put her on the flight, but the ticket was $400.

Again, Mary stepped up to help.

Genovich said she told Mary she would pay it forward; Mary said she should go take care of her dad and her baby — that would be paying it forward. Mary then hugged Genovich tightly and said, “I love you, and the Lord loves you.”

Laura Genovich's father and daughter. (Courtesy: Laura Genovich)
Laura Genovich’s father and daughter. (Courtesy: Laura Genovich)

When Genovich landed, she said she had an e-mail from Southwest Airlines gate agent that read:

“My name is Gayle. I was the gate agent for Southwest Airlines in Grand Rapids working the flight to Orlando. I wanted to let you know that all of us here in Grand Rapids are sending you good thoughts and prayers. I hope everything gets better for you very soon, and we send our greatest condolences.”

“Mary is the hero. She made sure she got on the plane she paid for it they hugged each other,” Mutchler said.  “She’s one of the most selfless people who I have ever met and she did it like it was her child. She didn’t even think about it.”

Genovich made it to the hospital that night, 15 minutes before visitation hours ended.

“I laid the baby on her and I talked to my mom and I sang to her and I played videos on my phone of the other kids so she could hear their voices and to be able to do that is just priceless,” Genovich said.

Her mom passed away a few days later on Dec. 3.

A message to Genovich's mother, left in the hospital room. (Courtesy: Laura Genovich)
A message to Genovich’s mother, left in the hospital room. (Courtesy: Laura Genovich)

“In the middle of an extremely difficult time for my family, I experienced the most incredible generosity from a complete stranger and the unexpected kindness of a major airline,” Laura Genovich wrote in her blog post, which has been shared more than 23,000 times on Facebook.

Southwest Airlines informed Genovich that after she boarded the plane, Mary returned to ensure all her luggage had made it on as well. That’s when the company gave Mary a voucher for a future flight for her kindness.

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