Villa Marie Claire

Anthony Giannella - United through it all

Ron Giannella didn't want to hear that his father, Anthony Giannella, needed hospice care. There certainly wasn't anything wrong with the 86-year-old's mind - Anthony was still coherent, discussing family activities and debating about his favorite baseball team. As for his appetite, well, he continued to feast on his favorites, like pizza.

Along with father and son, the entire Giannella family thought the esophageal cancer diagnosed nine months ago could still be beat. Though Anthony retired years ago as a musician, he continued to stay active and up until last year, still performed for local organizations.

But Anthony's physician explained the treatments weren't working and they were out of options. Anthony needed palliative care.

"I wasn't ready to hear that he needed hospice," Ron said. "I didn't think he was ready - he was talking all the time, watching the Yankees, eating. But I knew he couldn't go home because my mother couldn't take care of him - he had a mini-stroke or seizure and couldn't get out of bed."

Still, Ron always wanted his parents, when they became ill, to be cared for at home. He was considering various alternatives, like getting a home health care aide to stay in his parents' home. Then his wife, Sherri Giannella, told him about Villa Marie Claire in Saddle River. She had heard about it from customers at their business, Savini Restaurant, in Allendale.

Sherri brought Ron and his mother and sister to see the Villa in early April.

"Everyone knew immediately this was where he should be," Sherri said. "We knew we were at the right place. There was so much support and love. We didn't feel like we were alone."

They found the Villa to be nothing like they expected. Dr. Charles Vialotti, Medical Director, personally meets each family and sets the facility's warm respectful tone. He treats the patient and family as one unit and immediately made the Giannellas feel welcome.

"As soon as we made the decision, I felt better and I never second-guessed it," Ron said. "I thought it would be a disaster with people crying everywhere and that it would be loud, like a hospital. But there was so much compassion and care. Everyone was treated with such dignity - there was no suffering."

Sherri, who lost her own father nine years ago, said she wished she knew about the Villa then. She said she had so many questions during the last days of her father's illness about what he was going through and wished someone could have explained it.

"At the Villa, they gave us pamphlets and told us the stages my father-in-law would go through and he did exactly what they said," Sherri said. "It was so good to understand what was happening and it made you feel like he was going to be okay."

The Giannella family took comfort in the Villa's soothing setting. They enjoyed looking out on the property and seeing the lawns, gardens, and in-ground pool, though it was too early for it to be open.

They found Anthony was at peace at the Villa, and believes Dr. Vialotti was, in large part, responsible for his feeling of contentment.

"Dr. Vialotti treats you like part of his family - I feel like I'll know him forever," Ron said. "He's just amazing and made everyone feel so comfortable."

Ron, his mother, Carol, his sister, Tami, and Sherri were all with Anthony when he passed on April 17, 11 days after arriving.

"I'm so glad we were with him when he died," Ron said. "And my mother has gone back for the counseling they offer - it's just a great place."