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Looking out for her own

Mary Della Toffalo helped develop emergency medical cards for seniors

Mary Della Toffalo helped develop emergency medical cards for seniors

May 22, 2007

Editor's note - There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

Mary Della Toffalo



Age - 80.

Hometown - Halfway.

Where would you see Della Toffalo? - Mary Della Toffalo has been helping seniors all her life. As a child, she would take flowers to elderly neighbors to cheer them up.

Now that she's a senior herself - although she said she doesn't feel like one - her perspective has changed.

"I tell people I'm 79 and holding for a long time," Della Toffalo said with a laugh.

Della Toffalo said she has always been in good health. Life changed, though, after she took a fall in the carport of her Smithsburg home in January 2006 while going to get the newspaper.

She tripped over the quad cane that was supposed to help her stay on her feet. Della Toffalo lay there for more than 24 hours, until Connie Graper, a woman who helps Della Toffalo with errands and around the house, found her.

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Her body temperature was 82 degrees when she arrived at Washington County Hospital by ambulance and doctors weren't sure she'd survive. After months of rehabilitation in local nursing homes, followed by a hospitalization for a dislocated hip, Della Toffalo finally came home this January and is still recovering.

"If it hadn't been for her, I don't know ... ," said Della Toffalo, who calls Connie an angel.

She uses an electric chair to get around and looks forward to when she'll be able to walk easily with a walker and can drive. Della Toffalo said the loss of independence has been difficult, but she's not complaining. She said there are many seniors who don't have homes to return to.

What bothers her most about her recovery is that she can't help others right now as she would like to. Even as a nursing home patient, though, she did what she could, trying to get some of the seniors to smile or participate more in exercise programs.

Della Toffalo, who was a certified nurse, then a nursing home activities director, said it was a real eye-opener being a nursing home patient, instead of an employee or volunteer. It confirmed the need for the S.A.L.T. program she started, called Seniors Visitation, where volunteers make monthly visits to nursing homes to check out the conditions.

"We're the eyes and ears, but not the policemen," she said.

Della Toffalo has been an advocate for seniors through her volunteer work with AARP and Seniors and Law Enforcement Together (S.A.L.T.). She continues that work organizing seminars - topics range from reverse mortgages to fraud to Alzheimer's disease - and distributing medical information cards she developed, but since her fall she has had to give up some of her responsibilities.

More than 40,000 cards have been distributed since the program began, Della Toffalo said.

"Our goal is to improve the lifestyle of seniors," Della Toffalo said.

The Washington County chapter of S.A.L.T., the working arm of TRIAD, was founded in 1997, as a collaboration of the Washington County Sheriff's Department and Hagerstown City Police. Della Toffalo was a founding member, representing AARP, and served as the first president of Washington County's S.A.L.T.

Still, Della Toffalo doesn't like the limelight.

"I don't like the recognition, because I don't do everything alone. No man works alone. I have a hard time with that," she said.

Della Toffalo grew up in St. Mark's Lutheran Church, where she is still a member, and graduated from Hagerstown High School in 1945. Her maiden name was Adams.

She married Paul Hurbanis in 1949, with whom she had three daughters. They were married 22 years before he died from cancer.

Mary also has five grandchldren and four great-grandchildren, a family she takes great pride in.

Dominick Della Toffalo was her second husband and they were married for 17 years before his death 11 years ago.

"I think it's very gratifying to be able to help people," said Della Toffalo, who also trained adult leaders for the Shawnee Council of Girl Scouts and earned the Lamp of Learning.

The next S.A.L.T. seminar is Wednesday, June 13, at 1:30 p.m. at the AMVETS on Frederick Street in Hagerstown. Elizabeth Katz of the Maryland Attorney General's office will speak on "Alertness to Develop Safety."

For more information on S.A.L.T., call the Washington County Sheriff's Department at 301-791-3020.

Hobbies - Della Toffalo likes to paint ceramics and give them as gifts. She also enjoys making or shopping for the prizes that are given away at the seminars she organizes.

What does Della Toffalo like best about Washington County? - "Well, there's many things I like. I really like the fact all nationalities are accepted. I like people. As a whole, people are great. They're very cooperative with TRIAD," she said.




If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, contact Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024 or e-mail janeth@herald-mail.com.

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