When a seemingly healthy 14-year-old Mary Ellen “Meme” Falzone wasn’t feeling well, her family initially thought she had the flu. One of her two sisters had just recovered from the flu, so it seemed likely the active Toledo teen had it, too.
But Meme had Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. She went into a coma, and after a prolonged stay in the intensive care unit where she was on a ventilator and received kidney dialysis, she died from diabetes complications on March 14, 1978, nearly a month after becoming ill.
“It was a shock to us that Meme died from a disease we didn’t know she had,” said her sister, Sue Falzone Jablonski, of the Columbus area. “She was full of energy, and she was super smart. She was super active.”
To honor Meme’s memory and help the community confront a devastating disease through comprehensive care and education, the Falzone family is the lead donor for the ProMedica Mary Ellen Falzone Diabetes Center. The 55,000-square-foot center under construction on ProMedica Toledo Hospital North Campus near the Center for Health Services is expected to open next year. Receptions are being held today to celebrate the diabetes center’s construction.
The $15.6 million ProMedica Mary Ellen Falzone Diabetes Center, for which more than $1.5 million of a targeted $3 million in philanthropic donations have been raised so far, will focus on providing multiple services to patients of all ages with diabetes:
Toledo endocrinologist John Brunner, MD, of the Endocrine & Diabetes Care Center, will be medical director for diabetes care. The center will standardize diabetes education across ProMedica, as well as increase quality of care and provide patient education on the importance of adherence to diabetes medications.
The center’s focus will be on reducing the risk of developing diabetes complications by improving diabetes care to counteract the increasing prevalence of diabetes in our community. In 2011, 13% of Lucas County had been diagnosed with diabetes, up from 12% in 2007, according to the latest Lucas County Health Assessment.
Complications from diabetes include impaired vision, cardiovascular disease and kidney failure.
“Diabetes is a severe disease with severe consequences everywhere you look,” Dr. Brunner said. “Treating diabetes takes a team approach, and having multiple services in one location will be helpful for patients and families.”
Construction on the two-story center began earlier this year, and the environmentally friendly building is expected to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified. The overall goal is to have a building that uses 20% to 30% less energy a year than a “standard” design.
Meme, a caring teen who loved swimming and excelled at math, used to tell her father that his business at the time, Falzone Realty, would one day be called “Daughter and Falzone” not “Falzone and Daughter.” She was full of spunk and would have focused her abundant energy on the diabetes center if still alive, Sue Falzone Jablonski said.
“She’d be very sure it was the best of the best,” her sister added. “Meme would have been proud to have her name associated with a center that will impact so many lives.”
ProMedica Flower Hospital Foundation is heading up philanthropy efforts for the center. For more information, call 419-824-1836.