EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of two stories that explore the life and tragic loss of Melissa Veltidi, whose disturbing death occurred while being cared for at Amethyst House, Staten Island’s only sober residential home for women.
STATEN ISLAND, NY — The family of Melissa Veltidi, 27, – who passed out at Amethyst House in July 2021 and later died – said she was an “amazing mom” with a “big heart” and passionate about the arts and nature .
Veltidi, from Haverstraw, Rockland County, was on the verge of recovery and a new start in life when she died at Richmond University Medical Center in West Brighton on July 22, 2021, according to her family.
While Veltidi’s cause of death is listed as “undetermined,” the coroner’s cause of death is “multiple drug intoxication.” And that’s despite the fact that her death came at a time when Veltidi was only using prescription and no illegal drugs.
As family members continue to search for answers about how Veltidi died while being treated at Amethyst House in Port Richmond, they do not want their beloved daughter and sister to be defined by their addiction.
“She was an amazing mom,” said Veltidi’s mother, Anita Newell, who declined to post her granddaughter’s name on Advance/SILive.com. “The way she treated her daughter was with a very, very positive attitude. She never gave her daughter anything negative, which I thought was beautiful.”
The Amethyst House closed last year. Several whistleblowers previously told Advance/SILive.com that the more than 40-year-old safe haven for women seeking sobriety has become a house of distrust and neglect in recent years, riddled with mismanagement, missing medication and lost trust to be asserted.
Staten Island’s Camelot said it plans to reopen the facility under new management.
“FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS”
For years prior to her arrival at Amethyst House, Veltidi did not receive the help she needed for several issues Newell believes stemmed from her daughter’s sexual abuse as a child.
“She always fell through the cracks,” Newell said. “She never got the right mental health care.”
Veltidi was put through various mental health and drug addiction programs where she was prescribed too many pills instead of receiving talk therapy or other help needed to overcome her problems, Newell claimed. Over time, Veltidi became addicted to prescription pills and street drugs, including opioids and tranquilizers, her mother said.
“The treatment is just pills, that is [some medical professionals’] answer everything, rather than trying to find the root of this problem,” Newell said. “When you’re so drugged, you’re in a fog.”
Veltidi learned how to manipulate doctors and other providers to get medication to treat her addiction, her mother said.
“She knew what to say to get what she wanted when she went to these people,” Newell said of doctors and other providers. “I can’t even tell you how many medications she was on at one time. It was so awful and she kept trying to get off the pills. She would go to another treatment center and they would say, “Well, you need this drug.” It was just a circle.”
“Your daughter misses you terribly”
Newell had to speak softly because Veltidi’s elementary school-aged daughter was taking singing lessons in a nearby bedroom.
“Your daughter misses you terribly. I have to stop…” Newell said, breaking down in tears before taking time to regain her composure to continue an interview with Advance/SILive.com.
Veltidi “had a huge heart” and was a “very caring, loving” woman, said her sister, Jacqueline Zabrowski. “She was a wonderful mother and friend.”
The 27-year-old mother has enjoyed drawing with her daughter and also taking her child to fun events like county fairs, said another of Veltidi’s sisters, Kristi Veltidi.
As an amateur photographer capturing artistic images, Veltidi enjoyed attending electric light music festivals and freestyle dancing with friends, Kristi Veltidi said.
Veltidi has managed to retain a childlike ability to see the good in everything and everyone into adulthood, according to her family.
“A FREE SPIRIT”
“Everyone who met Melissa saw that she was a free spirit, an open thinker who never judged anyone she met,” reads her obituary. “She was open and passionate and loved music and creativity. Melissa always saw the good in people and made sure to raise her daughter with the same open-mindedness, positivity and strength.”
Kristi Veltidi, who was 16 when her sister was born a month ago, said: “She was very strong and very smart. She didn’t know how smart she was. She never found out, she never trusted herself enough.”
As a premature baby, Veltidi “had to struggle kind of early in life,” and that probably gave her strength, Kristi Veltidi said.
Veltidi grew up in Congers, Rockland County, where she attended Lakewood Elementary School and Clarkstown North High School. Her parents divorced when she was a child.
“She was like my little buddy,” said Zabrowski, who is about 11 years older than Melissa. “I used to take them everywhere with me.”
Melissa “was an eccentric, lovely girl who loved to draw and paint and ride a bike,” recalls Zabrowski.
“I always see her as this little fairy,” added Zabrowski. “She was very whimsical. She didn’t do theater or anything, but she was like a little actress in life.”
Alan Veltidi recalls many idyllic days spent with his late daughter in Lavallette on the New Jersey shore when he was young. She seemed free to swim in the ocean and play with her many friends at the beach community, he said.
Veltidi tried her hand at learning to play the piano and violin with some tuition from her stepmother, Janis Veltidi. Alan Veltidi said he remembers helping his daughter with many school projects, including one based on a fictional book about what would happen if rats swarmed Staten Island.
Although Veltidi has participated in many treatment programs for her issues over the years, she has been unable to achieve peace of mind, let alone long-term recovery.
“She didn’t want to be who she was,” Newell said of her daughter. “There was so much hope for her and she fought every day. She had demons in her head, but you would never know. Everyone who met her loved her. She was a beautiful young lady.”
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