Editor's note: This version represents a correction of Mary Ellen's biological mother.
Former South Toledo resident Sue Falzone Jablonski had a severe form of the flu about three weeks before her younger sister, Mary Ellen, caught it in the winter of 1978.
When Mary Ellen - who went by the nickname Meme - became sick, her family thought it was just a terrible version of the same flu bug her sister had.
As it turned out, it was indeed the flu, except Meme was a diabetic and didn't know it.
“It was the same thing, but we didn't know she was a diabetic. When you get sick or work out, you have to adjust your eating patterns,” said her sister, who now lives in Columbus.
Because Meme had the flu and wasn't feeling well, she wasn't eating like she normally would have. She went into a coma. On a ventilator and receiving kidney dialysis, Meme, 14 at the time, died from diabetes complications about a month later, on Mar. 14, 1978.
More than three decades later, the memory of Meme will live on in the newly named ProMedica Mary Ellen Falzone Diabetes Center. The 55,000-square-foot center is under construction on ProMedica's Toledo Hospital North Campus, and is slated to open next year.
The building is expected to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified, meaning it will use less energy than a similar building.
The Falzone family is the lead donor for the center, which will cost $15.6 million. More than $1.5 million in philanthropic donations have been received for the center. The amount the Falzones donated was not disclosed, said Jared Meade, ProMedica spokesman.
Providing diabetic education services, the Endocrine and Diabetes Care Center, a pharmacy and other services, the center will also house the ProMedica Toledo Hospital Family Medicine Residency program. In addition to serving as an educational center, services also include maternal-fetal medicine visits for pregnant women with diabetes. The office of the Diabetic Youth Services program, currently at ProMedica St. Luke's Hospital, will also relocate to the facility.
Dr. John Brunner, an endocrinologist from the Endocrine and Diabetes Care Center, will serve as medical director for the center. A main focus of the facility will be to reduce the risk of diabetes complications, similar to Meme's case.
Ms. Jablonski, who was attending the University of Toledo at the time her younger sister got sick, said she and Meme were best friends; four years apart in age, which brought them even closer. She said the morning her little sister went into a coma, she was headed to class, when her mother informed her that Meme was acting strange and lethargic.
Later in the day, her mother's best friend, who was a nurse, visited the home and Meme was rushed to the hospital. She went into a diabetic coma and never regained consciousness.
Ms. Jablonski said her family, including parents Anthony and Barb Falzone, both of the Toledo area, are thrilled to remember Meme with the name of the center.
“It means so much to us. First off, I'm really proud of my dad, who brought the idea forth. It's a way for us to keep Meme's memory and her spirit alive. She would just be beaming from ear to ear. She would be proud of my dad,” she said.
Ms. Jablonski said the center is also something that will benefit the Toledo area.
“Diabetes is such an awful disease and it's getting worse and there are very few health-care systems in the country that are tackling it head on," she said.
According to recent Lucas County Health Assessment released by ProMedica, 13 percent of Lucas County residents were diagnosed with diabetes, up from 12 percent in 2007.
“The people in northwest Ohio are so lucky --- it's going to mean a lot to their community,” Ms. Jablonski said.
Contact Kelly McLendon at: email@example.com or 419-724-6522 or on Twitter @KMcBlade.