On Monday morning, 85-year-old John Williams of Rock Hill was late for his 9 a.m. appointment at Southern States Physical Therapy.
The little old man with the bright eyes and the brighter smile had been coming since September.
“He is never late,” said office manager Janine Geada. “Like clockwork, he never misses. He’s a true gentleman. So I called his house a few times, but didn’t get him. I figured I would give him until 10.”
But Geada did not return to her work after the calls went unanswered. She knew Williams lived alone, had no wife or children.
Instead of going for a muffin, or to the bank or just plain back to work, Geada got in her car and drove the couple of miles to Williams’ home. She found his car in the back under the carport, but nobody came to the door.
She rushed back to the office and told co-worker Chris Hudson, an assistant physical therapist, who called 911 at 11:20 a.m. Both Hudson and Geada then rushed to Williams’ house.
The ladies who work at Fewell Park across the street saw all the commotion, the police cars and fire truck. At Williams’ home, firefighters broke into the house.
“He was lying on the floor in the kitchen,” said Hudson. “He had a broken hip. He probably fell Sunday night.”
Hudson had just talked with Williams last week about getting some kind of medical alert system.
By checking on him, Geada and Hudson might have saved Williams’ life.
It’s not uncommon for authorities to get called to check on someone’s welfare.
What is rare and certainly commendable, said Cotton Howell, York County emergency management director, was that Geada and Hudson drove to Williams’ home to check on him.
“These people took extra time and effort to help someone out,” Howell said. “That’s beyond what we normally see.”
Dr. Chad Gindi, director of physical therapy for Southern States, said the staff is taught that clients are not a number but a person to be cared for. He commended Hudson and Geada for their efforts – which went beyond physical therapy and running an office.
“We try to treat them like family,” Gindi said of patients.
Later that evening, Hudson and Geada did not go home from work. They were right there at Piedmont Medical Center, checking on Williams.
“He laughed and said, ‘So you are the gentleman who is responsible for the break-in at my house,’” Hudson said. “He was so thankful. I just told him I was happy to help.”
Also at the hospital Monday night was Sheila Fahey, a waitress at the Olive Garden restaurant, where Williams has been a Sunday regular for years of Sundays.
Williams would back into the handicapped parking space and wait for the restaurant to open each Sunday. He would be first through the door and order a martini, dry with an olive, then eat his risotto with shrimp and a big coffee afterward.
The Olive Garden staff loves Williams, said Fahey, who brought her kids to visit him, crammed into the hospital room.
“I met Janine and Chris, and I am amazed they would go so far as to drive out to see Mr. Williams and check on him,” Fahey said. “Mr. Williams thanked them several times. I thanked them myself.
“They are heroes.”
Monday night, Williams changed his form for an emergency contact: “He put Chris’ name and phone number on there,” said Geada.
Hudson said he was honored to be the contact.
“My patients, they’re my peeps,” Hudson said. "This is all about being there for somebody else.”
Geada and Hudson did not forget Williams, even as Williams was prepared for hip surgery Tuesday. They were back at the hospital, where Williams was listed in fair condition.
Janine Geada, like Chris Hudson, said she is no hero.
“I checked because he’s like family,” Geada said of calling Williams, then checking on him.
Williams, in Geada’s words, is “a classic little old man, with bright blue eyes and a bright smile.”
And when those eyes and that smile did not show up for physical therapy, Geada went looking for them.
The eyes can gleam again, and the smile can flash again, because Janine Geada and Chris Hudson cared about the little old man, who is more than a patient.