Melissa Vanderbilt-Bestor was recognized for her energy, dedication and compassion in support of dementia and other senior-related health issues Wednesday by OCEAN (Our Charlotte Elder Affairs Network), a coalition of public and private health, human and social service organizations that serves as a resource for Charlotte County seniors.

“You have really helped me grow and develop,” an emotional Vanderbilt-Bestor told about 75 people who gathered at Visani’s in Port Charlotte for the organization’s 29th annual Sunflower luncheon. She received a trophy and $1,000 to go to the charity of her choice.

“You have changed my life,” she continued from the podium. “I didn’t know this was the career I wanted to be in. My career was real estate law until a car accident (in 2007) changed my life. I had a severe brain injury. I had to learn to walk again and talk again.

“I was told I would never hold a job. I decided that was never going to be me. I was going to make a difference. I was going to heal myself, and in that process I wanted to be a light for others.”

In an earlier interview, she said she believed she has been “led to have an impact on people on a day-to-day basis.”

She left the podium to a lengthy standing ovation.

The North Port resident and mother of three is one of the area’s most experienced and respected dementia practitioners. She’s an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Association, which means she can speak for the organization. She is the only certified provider of virtual dementia experiences in Charlotte County. Her grandmother died of complications associated with Alzheimer’s two years ago.

Vanderbilt-Bestor is with the Springs of South Biscayne in North Port, an assisted living and memory care facility.

She was chosen by OCEAN members from among three nominees. The other two were Debbie Ameral-Chow of Trilogy Homecare in Sarasota, who does fundraising and marketing for Meals on Wheels; and Amie Conti, of Chelsea Place, the co-chairwoman of the 2019 Walk to End Alzheimer’s in Charlotte County. Conti has been working with local seniors for 13 years.

“She has gone above and beyond her normal job in the senior community,” Melissa Lockhart, of Helping Hands of Southwest Florida and OCEAN president, said of Vanderbilt-Bestor.

OCEAN board member Cyndi Shelton, of Solaris Healthcare, called dementia a “huge issue in the Charlotte County community. (Vanderbilt-Bestor’s) dedication to working in that area is incredible.”

Jesse Cantwell, of LifeCare Center of Punta Gorda, the chairwoman of the 2019 Alzheimer’s Walk, recognized Vanderbilt-Bestor as “compassionate for our senior community. She’s involved in so many different things on so many different levels. She is very deserving.”

Vanderbilt-Bestor made a point to thank her husband, Larry, for his support over the years. She said the she was “humbled, honored and shaken” by the award.

“My passion,” she said, “is for a greater understanding of cognitive impairment and how it affects our loved ones.”

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