A nurse and mother of five, Natalie Ann Brandsema was a natural-born caregiver who participated in pioneering research in the 1960s that helped at-risk women give birth to healthy babies.
"It was her nature. She just loved to care for people," said a daughter, Susan Loretoni of Babylon.
Brandsema welcomed her special-needs sister, who has since died, to live in her home, as well as a teenage nephew, who became like a sibling to her own children, Loretoni said.
Surrounded by family members, Brandsema died Oct. 17 at Good Shepherd Hospice in Port Jefferson of congestive heart failure after a stroke. She was 85.
"Her smile and her love of her family" are what her mother would want to be remembered for, her daughter said.
A longtime Commack resident, Brandsema was always up for a family gathering, eagerly asking, "what could she do, what could she bring," Loretoni said.
Children in the family were charmed to receive birthday cards containing washed and ironed bills of varying denominations, adding up to their ages, Loretoni said.
Born in Brooklyn on Dec. 26, 1928, to Joseph and Catherine Franke', she was one of eight siblings. She graduated from Catherine McAuley High School in East Flatbush, and while in her teens, worked as a proofreader for the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper.
At St. Mary's Hospital School of Nursing in Brooklyn, she met her future husband, Edward. They were married for 46 years; he died in 1997.
Brandsema had Rh-negative blood, which at the time often led to death or serious illness in fetuses or infants. In the early 1960s, she volunteered as a test subject in research by Dr. Vincent J. Freda, who later helped develop a vaccine allowing mothers with that blood factor to give birth without complications, her daughter said.
Brandsema was also one of thousands of nurses who participated in the Harvard Nurses' Health Study, an ongoing investigation into women's health issues that started in 1976.
Working for several years in the 1980s in Huntington Hospital's nursery unit, Brandsema served as inspiration for three of her family members to enter the health care profession.
Survivors include two other daughters, Ann Brandsema of Coram and Joan Sinatra of Merritt Island, Florida; sons John, of Commack and Edward of Orlando, Florida; sister Katie Cole of Norman, Oklahoma; nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Burial is to be private. The family is planning a memorial service in spring.