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Susan and Chuck Vadalabene: A Joslin Medalist's Legacy

Susan was born and raised in Rhode Island. In 1946, at age 22 months, she was diagnosed at Joslin with Type 1 diabetes. She was seen by Joslin founder, Dr. Elliott P. Joslin, and Dr. Priscilla White, who mainly worked with children and pregnant women with diabetes. The Joslin Clinic taught Susan’s mother, Yvonne, about Type 1 diabetes, and instructed her on what Susan should eat and how to take care of her. Throughout her childhood and into adolescence, Susan and her mother were able to address her care. Susan was determined to not let the disease control her life’s activities. She was an active and adventurous girl. At the age of 21, Susan told her mother that she and her girlfriends were taking a cross-country drive to San Francisco to see the sites. Susan’s mother didn’t know she had a job as a secretary in a doctor’s office waiting for her.

Susan didn’t tell her mom because she was afraid she would be discouraged from moving. Her mother found out about her plans when she received a call from the doctor’s office. They told Yvonne they were looking forward to having Susan on staff! Susan and her mother sat for a long talk. Her mom knew she wanted to spread her wings and move out of the comfort zone of care at home. She told Susan if she wanted to move, then she would have to take a diabetic program at Joslin. The program required a three-day stay to get the latest training on health methods, syringes, dosages and food – a complete immersion to make sure Susan was on the best track possible.

Once in California, she met and eventually married Charles.  “I was immediately smitten with Susan. I remember taking five days of skiing lessons in Tahoe, just to be in Susan’s company, as she was an avid skier. As Susan would say, the rest was history,” says Charles. “Together, we spent much time traveling the world doing many activities such as hiking, skiing, golf, biking, and snorkeling.” Susan quit her job and went to college to become an x-ray technician. She worked at Children's Hospital in San Francisco for 15 years. Later on, she worked as an x-ray technician in the office of orthopedic surgeon Kevin Harrington, for another 10 years.

In 1998, she received a 50-Year Joslin Medal, in recognition for the achievement of living with insulin-dependent diabetes for over 50 years, an award she was immensely proud of. Later on, Susan started to develop medical problems related to diabetes and eventually passed away in 2009 at age 63.  In spite of being diagnosed with diabetes at age two and polio at age four, she didn’t consider these medical battles.  Instead, she viewed them as challenges; ones which she met admirably with grace and humor her entire life.

In 2012, when Charles made his annual visit to see his 97 year-old mother-in-law in East Providence, they spoke about Joslin and recalled that Dr. Joslin and Dr. White had seen Susan as a child.

“A few years before she died, she stated if I was financially secure, she wanted to divide $100,000 between Joslin Diabetes Center and Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California,” said Charles. “It is a privilege for me to carry out her wishes to support these wonderful institutions. I believe it is a fitting tribute to join the Priscilla White Society in Susan’s honor.”

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Page last updated: April 24, 2014