NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An Upper West Side man was so overjoyed that he cried Wednesday afternoon when he found out his missing wife, who has Alzheimer’s disease, had been found.
CBS2’s Andrea Grymes and her crew were there with Scott Kegelman when police called him and said Debreh Gilbert, his wife of 24 years, had been found.
“You found her? I can’t believe it! Oh, fantastic, where is she? Where is she?” Kegelman said before bursting into tears.
Gilbert was located at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. She had been missing since Saturday afternoon, when she walked out of a Rite Aid drugstore on Broadway at 110th Street in Morningside Heights.
Kegelman was nearly at a loss for words after he got off the phone with police.
“Elated – oh, oh, it’s been so miserable,” he said.
Gilbert, once an avid world traveler and philanthropist who once raised enough money to build water wells in West Africa, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease four years ago.
On Saturday evening, cameras captured Gilbert and Kegelman walking into the drugstore, but moments later, she slipped out alone.
“Within less than two minutes I was there and usually she’s right behind me and she wasn’t there, wasn’t in the aisle we left her in,” Kegelman said. “I ran around like a maniac.”
She was spotted on surveillance video walking out of the pharmacy alone and turning left. An employee at the Famous Famiglia pizza store just a block away remembered seeing her Saturday.
“About 30 minutes – 30 to 40 minutes,” the employee said, adding that Gilbert was “She sitting there; she was walking around.”
The employee said Gilbert ordered two slices of pizza, but then left.
“Asked for a slice and someone came inside the store and he paid for her and he leaves, after he leaves she left too,” the employee said.
Gilbert often has trouble remembering her name, where she is or her life before the diagnosis.
“Now she’s more like a 6-year-old, so I’ve been relating to her like my child as much as my wife,” Kegelman said. “Lately, the last several months more like she won’t let me out of her sight.”
Missing posters went up around the neighborhood and on the news, as Kegelman and police desperately searched for his wife.
Gilbert’s picture flashed on the TV screen Tuesday night when Shauna Hall, a nurse tech at St. Barnabas, happened to be watching.
“The name came up, Gilbert, and I was like, oh my gosh, I know this patient!” Hall said. “She is with us here at the hospital!”
It turned out that Gilbert had been in the psychiatric unit at St. Barnabas since Sunday night. But staff did not know that Gilbert had been reported missing.
“She did give her name, but her first name was spelled differently, so that did not trigger a match , so that’s what the delay was,” said Steve Clark of St. Barnabas.
Gilbert also was not communicating much.
Hall called her supervisor on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning, the hospital called NYPD Crime Stoppers.
Hall was there when the couple finally reunited Wednesday.
“He run and he hug her. She ran and hug him, and you know, he was like crying: ‘Oh my dear, oh my dear, oh my dear,’” Hall said.
Lou-Ellen Barkan — president and chief executive officer of Caring Kind, an organization dedicated to those with dementia and Alzheimer’s – said the situation Gilbert fell into represented an unfortunate reality that is only a matter of time for those suffering from the disease.
“Everyone with Alzheimer’s disease or some related form of dementia is capable of wandering,” Barkan told CBS2’s Tracee Carrasco.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, three out of five Alzheimer’s patients will wander.
Barkan said families should register their loved ones with the MedicAlert NYC Wanderer’s Safety Program, which partners with the NYPD in such missing persons cases. Another solution is an ID bracelet.
“We have a user-friendly low-tech bracelet that people can wear that identifies the individual for anyone who finds them,” she said.
Meanwhile, an ecstatic Kegelman told CBS2 his wife is doing well.
“She was so happy to see me, and I’m jumping up and down and whatnot,” Kegelman said.
Kegelman is so grateful to everyone who helped, especially Hall.
“I got a lot of special angels, but she’s my new savior,” Kegelman said.
Apparently, Gilbert was acting out and somebody called 911 and she was taken to St. Barnabas. It is not clear how Gilbert ended up in the Bronx, and Kegelman does not care about that at all.
Kegelman said his wife was doing well late Wednesday, and would remain at the hospital until sometime Thursday.