February 2003

Ursula Campanella -
Honor Student in the School of Life

by Joseph H. RADDER

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Ursula Campanella was born in Heidelberg Germany nine years before the start of World War II. Both her father and older sister were drafted into the Army, leaving Ursula to spend the war alone with her mother and younger sister. “My mother was wonderfully resourceful. We had little food but, somehow, she was able to cook with practically nothing.” What she lacked in ingredients, she made up for with her cooking skills.

“In 1945 , when the war was over, all the schools were closed, the universities were closed and it was extremely difficult for the country to get back on its feet. So I went to school to learn dress designing and worked for a studio to get practical experience.” she remembers. She later went into her own business of custom designed women’s fashion clothing.

Soon after the war ended, she met an American, Alex Campanella, who was working as a civilian for the United States government in Heidelberg. They were married in 1955, their daughter was born in 195, and in 1958 they came to America. Alex wanted to return to his home city of Buffalo, so he took a position at Children’s Hospital and began what was to become a long and fruitful career of 26 years, helping children with birth defects affecting their spines and limbs.

Ursula brought her dress-designing skills and talents to Buffalo and developed a very distinguished clientele here. In 1980 she furnished clothing and breast prothesis for mastectomy patients and formed a company called Form-Fit.

In 1987, Alex decided to begin his own professional practice, now known as Campanella Orthotics and Prosthetics. “The first thing my husband told me,” Ursula recalled, “was, ‘You will have to help me. You will have to handle the administrative part’ And I’ve been doing it ever since.” The success of Campanella O & P is evidence of her contribution.

The Campanellas are also volunteers with Hope for Tomorrow, Dr. Jeffrey Meilman’s organization that provides needed plastic surgery to children around the world who otherwise could not afford it. When prosthetics are needed by Dr. Meilman’s patients, whether here or overseas, the Campanellas are there to donate them.

It’s clear that Ursula Campanella has a passion for people. She says “When I talk to a person, I truly pay attention to them. When I deal with a person, I deal with them as a human being. It makes no difference whether they are rich or poor. I’m a good listener.”

She feels that attention to detail is most important, especially remembering details about the people she works with. Our well experienced staff is like an extension of our family—we work well together.

Alex and Ursula were chosen for Senator Mary Lou Rath’s Humanitarian of the Year award two years ago. “We try to do things quietly,” she said.

Her humility shows when she repeatedly shifts the conversation to her husband’s achievements. For example, she told us that Alex Campanella had pioneered the “Milwaukee Brace” with Dr. Joseph Godfrey. He made hundreds of these devices for scoliosis patients in the orthotics laboratory at Children’s Hospital.

Scoliosis patients are children born with curvature of the spine. It usually develops at about eleven or twelve years of age, mostly in girls, at a very difficult time in their life—just about the beginning of puberty—when they are becoming “boy conscious.” Early x-rays and use of these Milwaukee braces usually make surgery unnecessary. They are 98% to 99% successful when treated before bone maturity is reached.

Alex was the first in our area to become Board Certified in orthotics. By attending professional meetings, he brought back to Buffalo many technological advances in bracing for the limbs and spine. Alex always takes plenty of time counseling each patient and his or her worried parents, re-assuring them, and putting them at ease.

If we had let her, Ursula would have gone on talking about Alex. Obviously she is very proud of him. Finally, however, we got her to answer a few more questions about herself. For example, does she have extra-curricular activities?

“Yes, I’m on the board of directors of Child & Adolescent Treatment Services. And, as stated earlier, Alex and I are volunteers and donors of prosthetic devices for the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation. When Dr. Meilman goes overseas and brings back a child who needs a prosthetic device, we’re the ones who fill that need.”

The Campanellas have been to Rome with Dr. Meilman for a private audience with the Pope. On the same trip they visited Albania, where they were able to supply and fit a number of needed prosthetic devices. “It’s fun to do this,” she said, “because you’re helping people who really have nothing. It’s the most heart-warming thing I have ever done. We loved it.”

In July, the Campanellas will take a similar trip to Poland and then Nepal. “We’re told there are people there who don’t even know what a doctor looks like.” Their charity work is not limited to overseas venues, however. A great deal of it is done right here at home.

Ursula is first and foremost a people person. She loves to help those in need and enjoys her work. Having studied people and studied life very carefully for many years, it is clear that she is an honor student in the school of life.

Joseph H. Radder is a freelance writer.


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