‘HOOSIERS WE’VE LOST’: Woman whose home was a ‘gathering place’ loses her life to the virus

Editor’s note: This is one of a continuing online series of profiles of the more than 12,000 Hoosiers who have died from COVID-19. The stories are from 12 Indiana newspapers, including The Republic, who collaborated to create the collection to highlight the tremendous loss that the pandemic has created. The series appears daily at therepublic.com.

Name: Pamela Mamouzelos

City/Town: Hammond

Age: 64

Died: Dec. 27

There was a time when many Region neighborhoods had one: that special house where all the kids hung out together.

Pamela Mamouzelos fostered that kind of gathering space at her Hammond home, with deliciously prepared Greek meals and a swimming pool that drew all of the neighborhood kids, Pamela’s daughter, Sofia Perez, recalls.

Summers were an endless cascade of pool parties and other gatherings, with one event constantly blending into another and at any time there was a cause or excuse for celebration.

Mamouzelos had a penchant for shooting home movies, and many of these friends-and-family gatherings were captured on her camcorder, Perez said.

She volunteered at all school functions for her children and became the devoted and affectionate Yia Yia (grandma in Greek) as her children grew and had children of their own.

“She had so many friends,” Perez said of her mom, the matriarch of a large Greek Region family. “She was always laughing. Always giving. Always throwing the parties.

“She was the light our lives. So when we lost her, it was a huge hit for all of us.”

Perez, of Highland, and her family lost Yia Yia to COVID-19 two days after Christmas.

“It just dimmed our whole lives,” Perez said.

“A lot of those people (Perez’s childhood friends) reached out when my mom passed away, and that’s exactly what they told us — that we remember your mom like our second mom growing up…

“We were the house to be at, always.”

Yia Yia’s three children and eight grandchildren have so many rich memories, Perez said, thanks in part to that proclivity for shooting photos and home videos.

Mamouzelos loved her life and family and had everything to fight for.

And she would begin the fight of her life the week of Thanksgiving.

The Monday before Thanksgiving, Perez’s children were baking cookies with Yia Yia. Later that night, Yia Yia called Perez, describing illness symptoms that suggested possible COVID-19 infection.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, an initial rapid COVID-19 test came back negative. But within a few days, a subsequent test showed she had the virus.

Mamouzelos was hospitalized on Dec. 3 with breathing difficulties.

At first, she was able to FaceTime with her family, but then grew too tired for those virtual visits with the family she could otherwise not do without.

On Dec. 20, Perez said medical staff indicated her mother would need a lung transplant to survive — but would not be eligible to get on the transplant list.

Still, Mamouzelos insisted on fighting, Perez said.

“She didn’t care what measures were needed to keep her alive,” Perez recalled. “She loved life and wanted to live it.

“As the days passed, every time we spoke to her, we knew that our days with her were numbered.”

Family members had one last FaceTime video chat with Mamouzelos on Christmas Day.

That night, Perez spoke to a nurse at the hospital and conveyed a heart-breaking message to her mother.

Perez asked the nurse “to tell my mom that it was OK to let go. We know how hard she fought.”

“The nurse called me on Dec. 27 and told me she wanted us to come up to the hospital. We knew it was time,” Perez said.

Yia Yia’s family had one final conversation with her regarding her wishes, told her how much they loved her, and then she was gone.

— Contributed by The Times of Northwest Indiana