LONG BEACH, N.Y. - The text from Sister Diane at St. Ignatius Martyr church was as odd as it was urgent: "A man is going to call. You must answer the phone."
Kerry Ann Troy had just finished her daily "cry time" - that half-hour between dropping the kids off at school and driving back to her gutted house on New York's Long Island, or to the hurricane relief center, or to wherever she was headed in those desperate days after Sandy, when life seemed an endless blur of hopelessness and worry.
Cellphone reception was sporadic, so even if the stranger called, she would likely miss him. Besides, she had so many other things on her mind.
Chris Troy and his wheelchair-bound son Connor, 12, who suffers from a life-threatening neuromuscular disease, waits for wife Kerry Ann to get the mail in Long Beach, N.Y., after visiting their home, which is under renovation after it was seriously damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
Donald Denihan, left, embraces firefighter Chris Troy during a visit to the Troy family house, under renovation after it was seriously damaged during Superstorm Sandy, in Long Beach, N.Y. The Troys are living in a house in Point Lookout, N.Y., donated by strangers who found them. Denihan, who suffered near-death experiences that convinced him his purpose in life was to help others, is paying for renovations to the Troy's home.
After spending the first week with relatives in Connecticut, Troy, a part-time events planner for the city, and her husband, Chris, a firefighter, had managed to find a hotel room for a week in Garden City. The couple had no idea where they and their three children - Ryan, 13, Connor, 12, and Katie, 4 - would go next. Hotels were full. Rentals were gone. Their modest raised ranch, a few blocks from the beach, was unlivable.
But the Troys faced another dilemma.
The family had been looking forward to a weeklong, post-Thanksgiving trip to Disney World, paid for by the Make-A-Wish-Foundation to benefit Connor, who suffers from a life-threatening, neuromuscular disease. He had lost one wheelchair to the storm. His oxygen equipment and other medical supplies were damaged by water. He was disoriented and confused.
How could they tell their sick child that the storm that had disrupted his life might also cost him his dream - to meet Kermit the Frog?
Yet Chris Troy felt he couldn't leave. And Kerry Ann said she wouldn't go without him.
And then - in the space of a few hours - everything changed.
A school administrator pulled Kerry Ann aside when she went to pick up Katie. She told her of a vacant summer home - a spacious, fully furnished, three-bedroom house in nearby Point Lookout, which the owners wished to donate to a displaced family. The Troys could live there indefinitely, at no cost, while they sorted out their lives.
Kerry Ann could hardly believe their good fortune. The kids could stay in their schools. The family could go to Florida after all.
But that was only the beginning.
The stranger that Sister Diane had texted her about earlier had left a message.
His name was Donald. He wanted to meet the Troys. He wanted to help.
At St. Ignatius Martyr, offers of help began pouring in as soon as the storm waters receded: spaghetti dinner fundraisers, fat checks from churches in North Carolina and Texas, smaller donations from nearby parishes.
For weeks the church had no power, heat or working phones. Masses were held in the school gym. Monsignor Donald Beckmann, scrambling to help his displaced parishioners, was a hard man to track down.
But Donald Denihan, a 51-year-old businessman from Massapequa, managed to find him. He wanted to see the devastation firsthand. And he wanted to help one family rebuild. He would pay for everything, from demolition costs to new paint. He just wanted to make sure he found the right family, perhaps someone elderly, perhaps someone with a disability.