A Southwest Airlines employee became a passenger’s “light in the darkness” when she personally delivered luggage filled with important cancer-related items to her home in the middle of the night.
Sarah Rowan, a Southwest Airlines customer service agent at Pittsburgh International Airport, received a call the night of July 23. On the line was Stacy Hurt, who had just flown into Pennsylvania from Nashville to make it to her chemotherapy appointment the next morning. Hurt was worried because her luggage had not yet arrived, and Rowan explained that the bags were loaded on a previous flight she had booked which had been rerouted and canceled. That meant the items could arrive later that night, or the next day.
“I panicked,” Hurt, 46, tells PEOPLE. “I thought of all the things I had in that suitcase that I needed for chemotherapy the very next day. My world was rocked.”
Hurt explained to Rowan that the bag contained medication that helped her with the side effects of chemotherapy, such as anxiety and reflux. But the luggage also included comfort items that were emotionally important to Hurt, such as a rosary and a lucky t-shirt. She would use them to keep her comfortable as she sat for hours with a chemotherapy needle in her arm the next morning.
“At that point, I started to cry and get very emotional,” says Hurt, who was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer three years ago on her 44th birthday. “You can’t control cancer so you control the things you carry with you for good luck and make you feel safe.”
As Rowan listened to Hurt, she was reminded of someone dear to her — her father, Frank Rowan, who died six years ago from complications with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia, which he lived with for two decades.
“He was the strongest man I’ve ever known,” Rowan, 27, tells PEOPLE. “A lot of what I see in Stacy is what I saw in my dad. I felt a very strong connection with her from the start.”
Rowan told Hurt that she would keep track of her luggage, but if it did not arrive before 1:30 a.m., it would likely miss the last courier.
Hurt’s luggage eventually came in on the last flight of the night, after all the couriers had left. But the luggage came just in time, because Rowan was still there.
Rowan looked up Hurt’s address and drove 25 minutes from the airport to Hurt’s home in Bridgeville, arriving at 3:30 a.m. She searched around her car and found a crumpled up piece of tissue and wrote Hurt a message and placed it in the bag.
“I just wanted to give her a final message to let her know that I’m thinking of her,” Rowan says. “That entire night, I was thinking of her, and I wanted her to know that we were behind her.”
The next morning Hurt found the luggage on her porch. Thinking that an airline courier had delivered it, she opened it up and discovered Sarah’s note.
“I was bawling, it was so overwhelming,” Hurt recalls. “This young lady brought this luggage herself in the middle of the night. I couldn’t believe it. Who does this type of thing?”
Hurt posted a picture of the note on Facebook after contacting Southwest Airlines to tell them about their employee’s exceptional customer service. Soon, Hurt found Rowan on Facebook, and the two met in person for the first time on August 9.
“Being in the presence of her beautiful spirit was awesome,” Hurt says. “To meet the woman who helped me during that hurried and panicked night — she’s my guardian angel, she’s my light in the darkness. I mean it, from the bottom of my heart.”
To Rowan, the feeling is mutual. “Stacy is just a ray of sunshine,” she says of her new friend.
Sharing the story of Rowan’s act of kindness was something Hurt felt compelled to do: Doing so may show her fellow cancer warriors that there are good people like Rowan who have their backs.
“I had to tell the story because it’s a miracle that I’m alive, and the fact that such an extraordinary act of kindness happened to me, I had to share it, we need to hear about the good in this world,” Hurt says through tears. “That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m still here.”