EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of two stories about the life and tragic loss of Melissa Veltidi, whose disturbing death occurred while being cared for at Amethyst House, the only austere housing facility for women on Staten Island.
STATEN ISLAND, NY — The family of Melissa Veltidi, 27, — who lost consciousness in Amethyst House in July 2021 and later died — said she was a “wonderful mother” with a “big heart” and passionate about art and nature.
Veltidi of Haverstraw in Rockland County was on the brink of recovery and a fresh start in life when she died on July 22, 2021 at Richmond University Medical Center in West Brighton, according to her next of kin.
Although Veltidi’s cause of death is listed as “indeterminate,” the mode of death is “multiple drug intoxication,” according to the medical examiner. That’s despite her death at a time when Veltidi was only prescription and not using illegal drugs.
As family members continue to search for answers about how Veltidi died while undergoing treatment at Amethyst House in Port Richmond, they don’t want their beloved daughter and sister to be defined by her addiction.
“She was a wonderful mother,” said Veltidi’s mother, Anita Newell, who declined to publish her granddaughter’s name in Advance/SILive.com. “The way she treated her daughter was with a very, very positive attitude. She never gave her daughter any negativity, which I liked.”
Amethyst House closed its doors last year. Multiple whistleblowers previously told Advance/SILive.com that in recent years the more than 40-year-old safe haven for women seeking sobriety has become a home of distrust and neglect, alleged mismanagement, missing medicines and lost trust.
Staten Island’s Camelot said it plans to reopen the facility under new leadership.
‘FALLING THROUGH THE Cracks’
For years before arriving at Amethyst House, Veltidi didn’t get the help she needed for multiple issues that Newell believes stemmed from her daughter being sexually abused as a child.
“She always fell through the cracks,” Newell said. “She never received proper mental health care.”
Veltidi was cycled through several mental health and drug addiction programs where she was given too many pills rather than talk therapy or other help needed to overcome her problems, Newell claimed. Over time, Veltidi became dependent on prescription pills and street drugs, including opioids and tranquilizers, her mother said.
“The treatment is all pills, this is” [some medical professionals’] answer to everything instead of trying to find the root of this problem,” Newell said. “When you’re drugged like that, you’re in a fog.”
Veltidi learned how to manipulate doctors and other health care providers to get drugs to feed 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 health care providers. “I can’t even tell you how much medication she was on at one time. It was so terrible, 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.”
‘HER DAUGHTER MISSES HER horribly’
Newell had to speak quietly because Veltidi’s elementary school daughter was taking singing lessons in a nearby bedroom.
“Her daughter misses her terribly. I have to stop…” Newell said, breaking into tears before taking the time to regain her composure to continue with an interview with the 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 loved to draw with her daughter and also took her child to fun events, such as trade shows, said another of Veltidi’s sisters, Kristi Veltidi.
Veltidi, an amateur photographer who captured artistic images, loved going to music festivals with electric lights and dancing freestyle with friends, Kristi Veltidi said.
Even into adulthood, Veltidi managed to maintain a childlike ability to see the good in everything and everyone, according to her family.
‘A FREE SPIRIT’
“Everyone who met Melissa saw that she was a free spirit, an open-minded thinker who never judged anyone she met,” her obituary read. “She was outspoken and passionate and had a love for music and creativity. Melissa always saw the good in people and she made sure to raise her daughter with that same open-mindedness, positivity and strength.”
Said Kristi Veltidi, who was a month shy of 16 when her sister was born: “She was very strong and very smart. She didn’t realize how smart she was. She never knew, she never gave herself enough credit.”
As a premature baby, “Veltidi had to struggle a bit early in life,” and that probably gave her strength, Kristi Veltidi said.
Veltidi grew up in Congers in 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 sidekick,” said Zabrowski, who is about 11 years older than Melissa. “I always took her everywhere.”
Melissa “was an eccentric, sweet girl who loved to draw and paint, and she loved to ride a bike,” Zabrowski recalls.
“I always see her as this little fairy,” Zabrowski added. “She was very erratic. She wasn’t into theater or anything like that, but she was like a little artist in life.”
Alan Veltidi recalls the many idyllic days he spent in Lavallette on the New Jersey coast with his late daughter when she was young. She seemed to feel free to swim in the ocean and play with her many friends in the beach community, he said.
Veltidi dabbled in learning to play the piano and violin with some instruction 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 on Staten Island.
Although Veltidi has participated in many treatment programs for her problems over the years, she was unable to gain peace of mind, let alone recover in the long run.
“She didn’t want to be the person she was,” Newell said of her daughter. “There was so much hope for her and she struggled every day. She had demons in her head, but you’d never know. Everyone who met her loved her. She was a beautiful young lady.”
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