by Maria SCRIVANI
Unless you or someone you know has had need of a supportive device for a malfunctioning body part or a device to replace something thats missing, you may have no idea of what goes on in a place called Campanella Orthotics and Prosthetics, Inc. The building, on a quiet block of Buffalos Linwood Avenue, is an office, a clinic, a laboratory, a high-tech workroom and a factory where the products turned out every day are nothing short of miracles. The chief miracle worker is Alex
Campanellaa man whose unassuming demeanor belies his formidable skill and vision.
I had dreams of this, said the Buffalo native, sitting in his office one
recent morning. The staff of eight includes Ursula, his wife of 44 years, a former custom
dressmaker who now does counseling and precision fitting of devices for mastectomy
patients. She is joined by Diana, a board-eligible orthotist and Marietta Lipomi, a
board-certified prosthetist. The lab was just granted a three-year accreditation, the
highest level available in this profession, by the American Board for Certification in
Orthotics and Prosthetics, Inc. (ABC).
The son of Sicilian immigrants, Alex Campanella has a life story that is
quintessentially an American success story. It is also universally human in its philosophy
that the greatest satisfaction comes from helping others.
Alexs father and motherMario and Concetta Campanella, 1920.
As a boy Alex apprenticed to his sisters fiancÚ, who owned a shoe-repair
business on Buffalos West Side. By age 15 he was proficient enough to be hired by
the Standard Shoe Repair Companyan operation with four branch stores. A shortage of
shoe repairmen during World War II was Alexs good fortune. He quickly advanced to
manager of the West Eagle branch.
Alex and his father in 1930.
Alex and his trombone at age 3.
Following the death of his beloved mother in 1948 (his father had died when he was a
boy of 9), Alex took a leave of absence from his job and moved to Italy for six months. It
was a sort of busmans holiday for the lad. In his familys hometown of
Montedoro, Sicily he apprenticed to a friend who operated a custom shoe manufacturing
business and was willing to share secrets of Italian shoe design.
Alexs First Communion, 1936.
Alex in 1939.
In 1949 Alex returned to Buffalo and resumed his job with Standard until joining the
Air Force at age 19. He served in Germany until 1952. Upon his discharge he was hired by
the European Exchange System (Army P.X.) as Services Supervisor in Nuremberg. Later he was
assigned to the Heidelberg Post Exchange. There he met Ursula Dennig, marrying her in
1955. In 1958, eight months after the birth of their daughter, the Campanellas returned to
Alex in the Army, 1949.
Alex had, through those years abroad, corresponded regularly with his siblings back
homeCaroline (Kay), who died in 1995 and his brother Epifanio, a retired musician
who still lives in Buffalo. My brother Epi and I played a chess game by mail that
lasted my entire tour and was finally completed when I arrived at his home in January,
1958, recalls Alex. Epi won.
That last bit displays the self-deprecating Campanella humor. Asked which languages he
speaks Alex says, German, Italian and a little bit of English. When showing
visitors the impressive workroom where artificial limbs are made to order hes likely
to joke, lessening their anxiety with humor. But in the clinic where he and the staff see
children, many of them scoliosis patients being fitted for body braces, he grows serious
again. The walls are lined with rainbow-colored drawings and childish scrawls To
Alex. Theyre thank-you notes, he says quietly. I never get
tired of helping kids.
Alex and his lovely bride Ursula, 1955.
Alex, Ursula and daughter Diana
How he got to this place was, curiously enough, a natural offshoot of the shoe-repair
path hed chosen earlier in life. When he returned stateside, following the years
abroad, he went to work for Tru-Mold Shoesfounded by Dr. Eugene Schultzto make
prescription shoes for the accommodation of various foot deformities. In 1960 he was hired
by Childrens Hospital as a technician in what was then the Wykoff Brace Department,
where he fabricated braces for infants, children and adolescents as well as some adult
post-polio patients. In 1972 manager John Congelli retired and Alex was appointed
Never one to let grass grow under his feet, he soon signed on for short-term courses in
orthotics at New York University and Northwestern University, attaining ABC certification
in orthotics in 1976. Under his supervision the Childrens Hospital Orthotics
Department grew from a two-man operation to a five-person revenue-producing department. He
was also spending evenings and weekends making custom-molded shoes in his home for
patients with special foot problems.
In 1987 Alex Campanella left Childrens to start his own business on Linwood
Avenue where custom-made braces and artificial limbs are fabricated on siteensuring
both quality and timeliness. Most work is done by measuring or taking a plaster-of-paris
mold of the limb or torso, from which a positive model is sculpted. The required device is
molded over the sculptured model for a perfect fit.
Patients are seen by appointment after being referred to our lab by their
physicians or while they are in-patients at area hospitals, Alex says. Because
our work is produced locally, turn-around time is shortened, which in turn tends to reduce
the inpatient hospital period normally spent waiting for a device to be completed.
He and staff member Marietta Lipomi, who is ABC-certified in prosthetics, confer with
physicians to formulate the optimum design for individual patients.
Ursula, Alex and Diana in Waqshington, D.C., 1994.
While training and skill serve patients well, in the final analysis it is the
compassion of Alex Campanella and his staff that makes for miracles. With acute insight
into the human condition he manages to encourage both compliance and independence in the
patients he assists.
We have a conference and I explain that its a team effort. A young person
with scoliosis may have to wear a brace 23 hours a day for a year, maybe a year and a
half, to arrest the curvature of the spine. They need to understand what were doing
and why, he says. People often come in here feeling devastated. They feel much
better when they leave.
Alex performing his miracles.
For Alex Campanella each case is an individual puzzle to be solved. I do like
challenges, he says. I dont shy away from things that are
difficultI look for them. That extends to his personal life as well. In his
free time Alex reads, paints in oils, hunts wild turkeys and makes wood furniture.
Right now my biggest challenge is crafting the doors on a cabinet Im making at
home, he confides.
With a track record like his, you know that Alex Campanella will get those doors
Maria Scrivani is a freelance writer.
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