Philanthropy Day held at Backus

By Joan Hunt - Managing Editor
Norwich - posted Tue., Mar. 29, 2011
Fred and Erin Martinelli visit with William W. Backus Hospital President and CEO Dave Whitehead on Philanthropy Day, March 22. Photos contributed. - Contributed Photo

When Erin Martinelli suffered a stroke nine years ago, quick thinking on the part of her husband, Fred, got her the immediate care she needed. Because they both worked at Lisbon Central School, Fred was right there, and able to take his wife directly to Backus Hospital. Recognizing the signs of stroke when a co-worker told him Erin was slurring her words and complaining that her head hurt, he knew that seconds can count in getting treatment, in order to avoid further damage to the brain.

Erin had an operation to open her skull and stop the bleeding. She was paralyzed on her right side. Extensive physical, occupational and speech therapy has helped her to make a good recovery and regain most of her abilities.
So did a device called VitalStim, which helps patients learn how to swallow again. The non-invasive, external electrical stimulation therapy uses specifically designed electrodes applied to the muscles of the throat to promote proper swallowing, which allows people to eat and drink normally.

“When she had her stroke, one of the things she couldn’t do was swallow,” said Fred Martinelli. “She was not able to drink water.” He said for the longest time, all Erin’s food was put in a blender. “It was a big step for her, because people can choke to death on liquids,” he said.
Because of their experience, the Plainfield couple made a donation to Backus Hospital, which has recently been designated as a Primary Stroke Center by the State Department of Public Health, in order to purchase a VitalStim device.

“By obtaining this machine, it really has helped speed the recovery, especially when people are desperately ill, and it gives them the quick recovery they are looking for. They may be able to eat before they leave here,” said speech therapist Beth Conley at Backus Hospital.
“The amazing part of this whole thing,” said Fred Martinelli, “is that it couldn’t have been maybe six months after we donated this apparatus my mom had cancer of the chin and she couldn’t swallow food, and she was put on that, and it was really nice. So two people in my life now have had an opportunity to benefit from it.”

The Martinellis epitomize the theme for Backus Hospital’s Philanthropy Day, which is “To change your world, start in your backyard.”
Philanthropy Day was celebrated on March 22, when the Martinellis and other donors gathered to celebrate the charitable gifts that have benefitted the hospital through the years.

Backus President and CEO Dave Whitehead said that, while people often equate “philanthropy” with celebrities and million-dollar donations, true philanthropy is evident in people like Fred and Erin Martinelli, who give what they can – and from the heart. “Thank you for the seed you have planted,” said Whitehead.

Other donors being thanked included the Backus family, the Lord family, who provided funding for MyHealthDirect, a computerized method of connecting people without medical homes to primary care providers, which decreases costly and ineffective emergency room visits, and the Tramontozzi family, who have donated their time and charitable gifts to the hospital over several decades.

Dr. Anthony and Patricia Tramontozzi were awarded the Backus Heritage Award for their many contributions, and for their gifts to the future of Backus through the Backus Legacy Society. Speaking on behalf of his parents, surgeon Mark Tramontozzi said, “It seems we always hear about the safety net whenever some more holes are being cut into it, due to budget constraints. But it’s important to remember that we are the real safety net for our community and our community’s hospital.”

Speaking of the Lord family’s donation, Backus Board Chairman Peter Disch said, “This is an example of how one family has directed resources to help an entire community.”

For more information, photos and a video about this and other Backus programs, visit the William W. Backus Hospital website at

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